Southgate has a lot to think about, with the Three Lions struggling to score goals while their captain is having a miserable Euro 2020 campaign.
It may be too soon to cast doubt on England’s chances of winning Euro 2020, but the early signs are not encouraging. After doing just enough to beat the 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia 1-0 in their opener, England’s confidence was sky high. However, their disappointing performance in the second group encounter against Scotland dampened the excitement among the fans. Gareth Southgate’s talented boys were touted as one of the tournament’s favourites before of the tournament. Following the semifinal appearances in the UEFA Nations League and the 2018 World Cup, many hoped that this would be the competition in which England would take that further step.
England selected an exciting bunch of young players for the tournament. The fans’ optimism grew fast as this demonstrated that the Three Lions were also focused on the future. Right-back Reece James is the youngest defender in the squad at 21 – same as Phil Foden (Man City) and Jadon Sancho (Dortmund), while promising Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka is only 19.
Midfielders Mason Mount (Chelsea) and Declan Rice (West Ham) are just 22, while Jude Bellingham of Borussia Dortmund – the youngest player in the entire squad – is just 17 years old. Marcus Rashford (23), Jack Grealish (25), and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (24) might have been playing club football for a while but they are relatively young as well.
The fearless nature associated with young players is what excited fans and made England a team to watch out for. All eyes were fixed on Southgate to see how he gets the best out of his young guns. He started the opening game against Croatia in a cautious manner. There were two holding midfielders – Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice – in the starting line-up to provide cover for the backline.
But the main question mark was over Southgate’s decision to play Kieran Trippier as left-back. A right-back starting on the left of a back four despite having two seasoned left-backs – Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell – in his squad raised a lot of eyebrows. The head coach believed that the Atletico Madrid full-back starting next to Mings, who was making his debut appearance at a major tournament, will be helpful for the Aston Villa defender.
They survived the contest thanks to a brilliant run from Phillips, which ended in Raheem Sterling scoring England’s first and only goal of the tournament till now. The full-backs were changed for the match against Scotland, with Shaw playing on the left and James starting on the right. However, their two midfielders played more like pivots (deep lying midfielders). They were focused mainly on defence than the attacking play.
In the first match, Rice sat back while Phillips played as a box-to-box midfielder. But, in the second match, there were hardly any forward runs made by the Leeds midfielder. It’s also not surprising. Phillips normally plays as a deep-lying midfielder for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds. He is not a natural box-to-box player. With Southgate taking a conservative approach against Scotland, Phillips hardly surged forward.
Explaining about it, Southgate said, “It’s easy to gamble towards the end, and lose shape, and then end up losing the game in the last five minutes, then you’re kicking yourself for not managing the tournament. I understand we’re at Wembley, we wanted to win, but in the context of the tournament qualification is the most important thing.”
Maybe it is time for the coach, to drop one of the two pivots and play an attack minded midfielder like Grealish or Bellingham. England have been solid without the ball so far, but it’s their approach with the ball, which is worrying. England have the players to be more expressive on the pitch, but whether Southgate will make the most of his attacking talents is another question entirely.
On the back of his mediocre display against Croatia in the opener, the England captain was almost non-existent against Scotland and his pedestrian movement was baffling to say the least. Kane had just 19 touches during his time on the pitch and failed to produce a single shot on target. He was rightly replaced by Marcus Rashford in the second half.
Reacting to English skipper’s performance, Roy Keane told ITV, “Harry Kane looks leggy, he’s not up to speed, on his heels all the time. If England are to compete in this competition, they are going to need their star men to perform. I’m glad Gareth [Southgate] took him off, he’s wasn’t performing. Kane is a big problem.”
And the former Manchester United midfielder is correct – Kane is proving to be a major issue for the Three Lions. Rashford was lively after came from the bench. He made few good runs and kept the Scotland defenders on their toes. It’s nothing new for England, as their star players have frequently failed to deliver in major tournaments.
Just as it appeared like England had turned a corner with their 2018 World Cup campaign, doubts began to sneak in among fans once more. He has been exceptional in the domestic level, scoring goals aplenty for Tottenham Hotspur. He often turns up while playing for the national team, but this time things have been different. If England are to go deep in the tournament, Southgate has to find a way to get the best out of his star striker.