Did England beat Croatia in spite of Southgate?

Date published: Monday 14th June 2021 8:28 - Editor F365

England beat Croatia 1-0 but they won in spite of Gareth Southgate, apparently. Send your thoughts to theeditor@football365.com


You know it…
So, England have won their opening game of a European Championship for the very first time, kept a clean sheet, beaten a team who put them out of the last World Cup and did it all without conceding any big chances, while looking like they may get one or two more goals themselves. All done with an exciting, young and pressing team, who were all picked for a reason and can only get better as the tournament goes on.

Cue the Mailbox full of English Armchair Managers who proclaim ‘Where was Grealish?’ ‘Why was Sterling playing?’ ‘Why Trippier instead of Shaw?’ and somehow make out that this was a lucky win rather than a controlled, deserved one.

Annnddd go…..
Alan (Chelsea, Champions of Europe) Belfast


Still questioning Southgate
Just playing devil’s advocate here but was Southgate’s team selection actually vindicated by a 1-0 win over a pretty slow side that can’t hit a barn door from 10 yards? Maybe his selection made it harder that it actually should have been. 3 points is the most important thing but I have a niggling feeling he’s not the chess master he’ll be made out to be.


…I have to disagree with your assessment of England vs Croatia – this was a victory in spite of Southgate.

The selection of Trippier at left back for set-pieces didn’t work – the set pieces were so so and he cramped England’s attack down the left.

Sterling scored but the direct over the top balls from Mings rarely worked, and with an increasingly low block in front of him, he should have been replaced by Grealish and England should have moved to Plan B.

Rice and Phillips were excellent but playing with two deep-lying midfielders was the primary reason that Kane was isolated and England didn’t create much (even with Phillips movement).

The subbing was poor – Sterling for Grealish was a no brainer even after he scored. Bringing on Rashford against a by now Croatia low defence was strange. We needed to keep possession not hoof it long. Bellingham was good but could have come on earlier as Phillips and Mount tired. Walker had a poor game and wasn’t supporting Foden at all – hence why Foden disappeared after 20 mins. Bringing on James as a first sub after half time would have freshened things up considerably and still kept Perisic under control.

Also, Modric dropped into a 6 after half-time and started to dominate possession. Surely Mount should have been man-marking him? Most of the time Mount was too deep and Kane was nowhere to be seen in the Croatian build up.

However, most importantly, we won, and hopefully, Southgate’s tactics, analysis, and game management improves as the tournament goes on.
Matthew (ITFC)


…From 16 Conclusions – ‘for a coach who is greater than many are willing to admit’.

Now I could be wrong here, but to me it isn’t that Southgate is a better coach than people believe him to be, as most people I know think he is a good, if not great, coach. Which feels about right.

What he is though, is just a good fit for this England side, in these times, with these players. This isn’t a criticism of him, and I am very happy to have a likeable, considered and decent coach of England, which hasn’t happened too often in my lifetime. I don’t know if this makes him a good coach or a good fit? I guess either could be the reason and the either could be the result, but fair play to him – we did an alright job yesterday, and tournament football is about grinding out results, not blowing opponents away.

Overall I’m happy with the performance and result, so guess we can say Southgate has done a good job! Get Maguire back in (and Shaw/Chillwell – I mean come on, playing an average right back at left back instead of excellent left backs is just absurd…) and it’s almost definitely coming home.
Jack (Rashford for PM) Manchester


…I realise that England haven’t won a Euro opener since 1657 and I should be happy and grateful….

But Southgate’s attacking plan is fundamentally flawed.

Southgate is worried about his defence. So he plays his most reliable full backs and tells them not to get forward. Then he puts in two DMs to shield his centre backs. Fine. So we’ve got full backs who aren’t going to cross and centre midfielders who won’t create much.

He then plays inverted wingers – who also won’t put in any crosses. So there’s nothing going into the box. This means 1. Our world class finisher Kane’s not going to get any decent chances 2. England are not going to create anything.

Two shots on target against a weak defence was pretty much inevitable. It’s going to be the same pattern throughout the tournament.

Given the full back issue, surely Foden/ Sterling (if selected) should have switched wings so at least there’s a chance of someone going outside the full back. Mount did it once and we nearly scored.

And Sterling as an inverted winger doesn’t work. His City career went downhill after his switch to the left.

And Rashford as a right winger over Sancho is nuts. I don’t think he’s ever played well on the right.

Other than that, Eng-er-land!!!

(And I should definitely be more grateful. Well played Phillips! And good for Mings!)


England not all that
A recent conversation:

Me: they’re calling Kalvin Phillips the yorkshire pirlo in England

Friend: Lol of course they are. They literally can’t help themselves. A player shows even a little promise, and the English media just has to heap unreasonable expectations on them till the weight crushes them and they fail. An English tale as old as time.

Just wanted to share this. I don’t know why you keep doing this. Solid win against Croatia – but let’s not act like this is the same team that beat you in 2018. That Croatia team was at its peak that year and the 3 years since is a long time in football. I’d hate to see you guys put undue pressure on yourselves…

My favorite part of 16 conclusions was this bit – ‘but it was the way in which Phillips ghosted into space and lost his marker, rode the challenge of Josko Gvardiol and evaded Caleta-Car before slotting Sterling in to score. This is no ordinary holding midfielder…’ – my f***ing god. Seriously, get over yourselves. You would think he did this against Nesta and Maldini in their prime as opposed to a 19 year old and some random guy who plays in France and is probably most known in England as a guy Liverpool tried to overpay for in January when in a desperate scramble for help at CB.

Moreover, how a midfield (holding or not) player not being undone by what in reality was simply bad defending can be considered extraordinary – I’ll never understand. Nice weight on the pass but let’s not act like he does this all the time – any professional player is liable to thread a perfectly weighted ball now and again.

Every single one of your players bar Foden and Saka is wildly overrated in the grand scheme of things.

In sum, I can’t wait until this team goes down in flames (per usual). And as you all are wondering where it went wrong, I suggest you take a look in the mirror and pray for forgiveness from the football gods.
MAW, LA Gooner (Btw, I wouldn’t have implied that Kane is overrated if I didn’t know that many of you think he is better than Lewandoski.)


I was wrong about Southgate
I got so many things wrong about Mr G. Southgate . He, on today’s evidence, knows exactly what he is going to get across a whole game from each individual player and I am a know-nothing-numpty.

For example, Captain Sterling double covering in defence, running past the furthest man and, as usual, making 4 out of 6 wrong decisions . After I’d stated repeatedly that neither Raheem nor Rashers ought to be first choice the manager brought them both to defeat World Cup finalists Croatia.

Again, I would not have picked Kalvin and his dreads in a double pivot yet he was possibly the selection that Mr G. will be most content with . My boys and I were cheering Jude Bellingham and I was indeed dead pleased he came on, got a few feet in where it mattered and, I presume, played a triple pivot to close out the victory, a thing that England have been utter pants at and excruciatingly frustrating in tournament football this century.

This will be a tournoi where all, apart from the reserve keepers, will play a part. After a gruelling season it is surely a squad game till the end . That is why we saw Dominic getting on, looking as always the most dashing of destroyers.

Are we as impressive as Italy after the first game, well , probably not, but Mr G. has done a very good job in getting English players to care as much as the Italians seem to do about representing their country.

As the minutes ran down, my England-supporting history told me to prepare for an agonising equaliser, but it did not happen .

Our weakest link – Mings, didnae have a brain fart and as an X Villa centre half, that was proof of good man management by Mr G. too .
Next time out I am sure we will see Jack and Mount may well get a much-deserved rest. The Trip too may get a rest as one of Shaw or Chillwell come in to play v Scotland.

Squad management, not knackering individual . Perhaps even no Kane and Phil the Kill as a false 9. However , whatever Southgate and his team decide to do, I now have way more confidence in our manager and thank our lucky stars that a fake sheik style shake down did for stuck in the nineties Alla-dyce . Well done Gareth. You are a gentleman and a scholar . (old beer advert)
Peter (glad Wembley is our playing venue for multiple reasons ) Andalucia

England have an identity
England getting to a World Cup semi. England playing with tactical nous and know how. England boringly beating their Foes, a competent team of questionably more pedigree.

Game management. Wtf is this.

I’m sorry but you can berate Grealish not playing, Trippier at LWB. And you can fill the pub gardens with knock off Facebook ads. But in my lifetime I’ve not seen an England team like it. Regardless of talent, and regardless expectation, it just actually means so much after 40 years of lurking, to actually see England play like a team. I don’t care if football comes home, after all these years I’m just buzzing we have some kind of identity.
Sean McKeown


More England thoughts
Interesting and clever formation from Southgate. Have always felt this group of players would do better with four at the back letting us play more of out better players. They did well, showing all of England’s best attributes. Harrying, pressing, passing, clever runs, pace, some very nice incisive passing.

I always wonder whether those booing the kneeling before the England games cheer those same black players when they score or assist in the goals England score?

At any one time there would be at least 4 to 6 black players in the England team. Do these numpties only support the other white players?

Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount

Croatia seemed to drop down continuously to get a free kick to pause play and we’re quite happy to run through the back of Kane constantly. Is that what pundits call ‘experience.’ Surprised so few Croatians were booked. Refs seem to be going lenient in the early hours.

Pickford really, really loves himself. It’s all about his long kicks – even though they often go nowhere – and not about the outfield players chasing the ball in that heat. Stones was right to have a go. He doesn’t position himself well for the back pass from his team mates, often putting them in trouble. Pickford’s theatrics after a save are sickening. You could see the opposition hating us just for that alone.

In the end, a very composed display from the young players. In fact, it was Walker, the most experienced on the field who seemed the least composed – misplacing many passes. The promise of these young players coming to fruition. Remember, many of these guys have had youth tournament experience.
Paul McDevitt (great to see Eriksen stable – just hope the recovery continues well)


…Been a while since I wrote in. I think, like, two years.

If alcohol and an England win have told me anything though, this is the time for another.

Having read some comments on Matt Stead’s 16 conclusions, I have to offer him reinforcement to his suggestion that those England players continue to take a knee in support of Sterling and the other players of diversity in their squad. I do not think England players are in any way the most subjected to forms of racist abuse, but I do believe they have the team unity and group mentality to take a stand – regardless of media/twitter/moronic pressure.

I back Kalvin-Phillips being MoM. However I do think credit needs to go to both Rice and the England coaching team. KP seemed to be drifting in space for a while, and he triggered his run the second Walker received the ball. I can’t think of a more obvious (when seeing it back) coached move. KP was clearly told to move between the lines as an unexpected runner, and still had a lot to do even so. Croatia awaited the ball wide to Foden. Southgate (I really hope it was Southgate) out-thought them.

I live in England so I can’t say how other countries deal with the heavy pressures of media concern. Perhaps we read into it that our media are the worst, maybe they’re not. No doubt the Spanish and Italian media are pretty terrible with their football team too. What I can say, and what Southgate/England have done is continually temper expectations whilst also providing belief. Which seems fair, because anyone who puts us in the top… 3? Is in denial. Even on this impressive performance. It is a knockout performance and anyone can win on their day (see below RE Chelsea fan) but we would need more than luck to beat France.

I was doubtful of Trippier. I am a Chelsea fan, Chilwell is a beast and 365’s fascination with Shaw is misplaced. The boy is a champ. BUT. BUT. Trippier does do what all the JWP fans are crying out for whilst also filling in a position. To think we ever even asked for JWP is a little crazy to me. We (Maybe just me and my granddad) often joke that the set piece takers are championship specialists… So to say we need one feels derivative.

I think the biggest importance from this result is to watch England switch shape to a flatter back four and to still seem like it was a formation they’ve been asked to play every week. If England can offer that flexibility then they may go further than we might hope, expect or dream of. And if Southgate can continue to pick his moments, like I assume he did with KP, then we might just be a real contender.

Secondary thoughts:

I’d marry Phil Foden, boy can control balls better than my girlfriend.

Panicked when HK was part dead. But didn’t have a full meltdown, blame Gareth, blame the replacements, blame the team. They got me too sure that they could all fill in.

So glad I didn’t have a Pickford panic attack.

As a cricket fan I hope this KP is like the other KP and isn’t all KP about it. Give me some Reece James.

I wrote too much, but it’s been a long time. So, y’know, getrekt.
Roscoe, Camden


Pogba needs a Kante
The discussion over the past 3-4 years has been about Pogba’s position at United. Is he a number 6 or a number 8?

One thing we can be sure of is that he is not a left winger but Ole has played him there just to get him in the team.

Pogba will most likely shine again for France because he has Kante playing alongside him. Similarily at Juventus he had quality and players he could trust.

At United Ole has to play a double pivot because no player is good enough to play there on his own.

Kalvin Phillips showed us exactly the position where Pogba can shine. Officially as a number 6 but with the freedom to bomb forward, finding himself switching between playing the 6 and the 8.

Phillips could do that because he trusted Rice besides him. Even if Philips lost the ball England had the cover of Rice.

When Pogba loses the ball for United, the mistake is amplified because the cover simply doesn’t exist. God bless Fred’s soul for he tries as best he can but he simply is not a world class defensive midfielder.

You have to allow your creative players to take risks. They will lose the ball at times. Bruno and Rashford both probably lose the ball more than Pogba but don’t get the same scrutiny because they are fan favourites and are not dating Graham Souness’s daughter.

Any top team in England would do well to have Rice in their squad next season. Can’t imagine both the Manchester clubs not going for him.

Arsenal would do well to try and get Kalvin Philips.
Shehzad Ghias, mufc, karachi


Talking referees talking
A quick question for the Mailbox audience – in European games where there is not one common language between teams or the referee, how is this managed?

For example – watching Netherlands vs Ukraine: German referee with teams who have a national language of Dutch and Ukrainian or Russian. How do people communicate and how is the selection process for the referee of this game undertaken?

As far as I am able to work out, there are two possible scenarios: 1) The referee selected is chosen based on other languages they know – perhaps in this situation the referee may know one of Dutch or Russian?

However, this seems quite limiting for selection purposes because you would require referees to have fluency in 4-5 different languages, and the 3 support officials to have the same proficiency in the same language.

2) A common language is used, which based on European trend would likely be English. This means that in communications between officials and players, they would use English, likely to be a second or third language for the people concerned, to form a common understanding in speaking.

Again, this raises questions that if this was the method then are all referees at European level required to have English proficiency? And not all players speak English, so in this case, how do communications take place? Are team captain selections completed with this skill requirement in mind? Or do players get support from team mates to translate? And what if the whole team doesn’t have a comfortable level of competence to speak or understand a language? I have no knowledge of Ukrainian players’ language skills, but given that only two of the team compete in English football, this is entirely conceivable as a possibility? How is that managed? Are national level governing bodies consulted to agree an alternative common language as a one-off?

Just wondered if anyone knew the process surrounding this, or how this is managed during games?
Alex, Reading

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