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Late thoughts about England…
Might be bit late with my England analysis, but if you want an opinion from a mostly neutral outsider… Though I will be very glad if England finishes second after Finland as we do “Greece” and win the whole thing.
Southgate might be an excellent manager but he is not the right fit for England. There was a discussion some time back about Roy Hodgson and how he divides opinion whether he is a good or bad coach. He was excellent for Finland, he was excellent for Fulham and very good for Palace etc. but not that successful for Liverpool and England. Some coaches are better suited for teams that are underdogs or alternatively have a team with excellent defenders and goalkeeper. They can and will rely on the team keeping a clean sheet and then score once or twice with the few chances they will create. Southgate seems to possess that mentality judging by his team selection now and in the past. Safety first, keeping a clean sheet, grinding a win with a solid display. And there is nothing wrong with that, if that is the best chance of succeeding.
However, if you look at the players England have and consider where the biggest strengths are. First of all you have Kane, considered one of the best attackers in the world, right after or even with Lewandowski and the few usual suspects. You have Foden, Grealish and Mount who are all world class (and I don’t use that word lightly) attacking midfielders. You have Sancho (admittedly I haven’t seen him play much), Sterling and Rashford who are all very good or even excellent wide attackers. And I haven’t even mentioned Saka and Calvert-Lewin. Ridiculous amount of talent going forward. You don’t have to look with envy to any other country in the world, including France, with the players you have.
Looking at your goalkeeper and defenders. I am not saying they are bad defenders, but just my opinion, they are not the best out there among Euro nations when actually defending. Walker, Stones and Pickford have all tended to make a mistake or two during the game. I wouldn’t pick Mings, Maguire, Shaw and Trippier in the world XI defender lineup either if you want to avoid conceding. But many of them are fantastic going forward. Shaw and Walker on the flanks offer a real threat against any team. Pickford is most praised for his accurate delivery. I am a huge fan of Stones as CD as he is so good with the ball, fluidly making runs to midfield and offering a real possibility of dominating possession for any team. Maguire is a bit of the same, making these mazy runs and actually being a quite good passer.
So you are in a situation, where your manager wants to make sure, your weaknesses don’t cost you games and sets up the lineup defensively using two holding midfielders. What that actually causes, is that you don’t get to maximize the effects of your greatest strengths. You might still do well, but the risk is that you don’t create much and fail to score at some game and a defensive mistake or two then gives the opposition a win. Think of Mourinho with Tottenham. As I said in the beginning, Southgate might be excellent and I would love to have him as the next manager of Finland if we ever need a new one, but as an England fan, I would rather have somebody with a more attacking mentality as clearly your biggest strengths are there. And it’s a bit of a shame as a spectator, as you could be the most exciting team to watch in the world right now.
Matti Katara, Helsinki
Fully agree with this morning’s contributors ridiculing the criticisms of Gareth Southgate after winning his first game at the Euros against a tough opponent. Gareth is in the top 5 most successful England managers of all-time, after all. My overall expectations for the Euros is a quarter final. We have a top 8 team, no doubt, but it’s hard to imagine any of our players walking into the German, Belgium or French lineups, barring maybe Kane and Sterling.
Aside from the Dutch, I’d say we have one of the poorer central midfields and defenses out of that top 8, which is why I’d like to see us move away from the 4231. As an Arsenal fan, I’ve seen my fair share of that formation and, to make it work, you really need an exquisite midfielder as part of the two (think Fabregas, Carzola or Modric.) Otherwise, it’s just incredibly difficult to progress the ball into the attacking four through the middle of the park.
I think we saw the deficiencies of our two man midfield on Sunday. Excellent defensively (Modric barely got a sniff!) but as a team we had to resort to bypassing the midfield entirely on a lot of occasions. With three points in the bag already, I’d love to see us revert to a 433 against Scotland. We know they’ll defend deep, and that formation would allow us to line up our more creative attackers, Foden and Grealish, on either side of Rice.
Finding a way to supply Kane with regular opportunities has to be the biggest challenge for Gareth this tourney. Can’t help but feel two creative midfielders would go a long way toward that.
Liam (let the handbrake off) AFC
I think the reason why England fans come across as miserable, even in victory, is easy to understand and that’s because it’s hard to get excited when we all know the script by heart: We’ll get out of the group no trouble, only to run head-first into France, Germany or Portugal in the first knock-out round and get schooled. Goodnight Vienna!
The nature of the win on Sunday didn’t particularly inspire, either. One man’s “controlled” and “stress-free” win over the Croats is another man’s turgid and deathly-dull slog. I was struggling to keep my eyes open at times.
I cannot remember the last time an England performance had me out of my seat. I’d probably have to go back twenty (20!) years, way back to the infamous 5-1 in Munich against the Germans. More than half my lifetime ago! Two decades of relentless, churning shod.
I cannot fathom it. Players change, squads change and managers all change over the years, yet the performances remain reliably laboured at all times. How come? Is it the weight of unreasonable pressure from the media and fan expectation or something more than mere mental block? Or is that really the fabled “England DNA” all along?
Gareth Southgate – a man so bland he probably poos vanilla pods – is only carrying on this time-honoured tradition. Heaven forbid the England team even tries to entertain the folks at home! I can only imagine the pelters Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or Jose Mourinho would get from this site if they were managing England and produced similar snooze-fests, even after a win.
I would love for Southgate to go all-out attack a la Keegan’s Newcastle, because we won’t win this tournament, but might as well have a bit of fun in the meantime. We’ve got the players for it, after all. But Southgate sadly just isn’t that man. He is a man so bland that when asked what his favourite drink is, replied in truth “water”.
I reserve the right to get excited and maybe ever so slightly get my hopes up again if we were to beat France, Germany or Portugal! But until then, best to keep the old enthusiasm firmly curbed.
Lee, jaded cynic
Interesting take from David in the morning mailbox re. football being the only sport he can think of with capped subs. He cites basketball and rugby as examples.
Personally, I think that unlimited or rolling subs would be wrong for association football.
Rugby is the good example here. Because the rules are different depending on the code being played. Rugby Union being an example of a game where the rules are broadly the same as football, there absolutely are capped numbers of permanent substitutions (8), with exceptions for temporary subs for bleeding players.
Rugby League, like basketball, allows rolling substitutions. The difference to me is that Basketball and League are incredibly end-to-end, stamina draining games, where it is in the interest of the game to allow substantial rest periods.
Football is not that sort of a game. The ball is only typically in play two thirds of the time. It’s physically demanding, but not as intense as those other games.
Being able to make unlimited subs would ruin the tactical balance of the game. If a coach sets his team up wrong, or is outsmarted by his opponent, he shouldn’t be allowed to completely change in the first ten minutes, without consequences.
You mention the Eriksen injury, which was sad, but those instances are exceptionally rare (thank god) and, while we don’t yet know in this case, usually the result of undiagnosed heart issues, not because the game routinely pushes players beyond safe limits.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an area to look at. Extra subs during scorching hot summer tournaments, sure. Temporary subs for suspected concussion, absolutely. But rolling subs? Not for me. Think of the time wasting…
Fred wouldn’t make England’s 4th choice XI
So, what is going wrong for the rest of the world? The Copa America just kicked off and looking at the Brazil line-up, it became obvious something is wrong, look, Fred is a hugely underrated player at man utd, but he was bought at a time where Mourinho just wanted to steal all of Guardiola’s targets, (I really don’t get why too) essentially, Fred was originally going to City but United poached him like they did with Sanchez and Maguire, he was very good in that opening game looking like prime Thiago Alcantara and if you think the comparison is ridiculous, that’s not my fault, if he went to the blue side of the city, he might have made 2 team of the years by now. But it is what it is, and Fred would probably not make England’s 4th choice XI, he will just luckily scrape into France’s 10th, but there he is, starting for record champions of the world, Brasil, even with Neymar and Casemiro, their squad is now only good enough to be compared with Croatia, without them, Croatia maybe better. Their defence is good though.
It makes for grimmer reading when considering Argentina’s case, I could not believe what I was seeing, they still have the player worth 5 others, but I wonder, did that blind them from seeing the truth, that they are stagnating while the rest of the world in particular, Europe moves on, without Messi, Argentina’s line-up can hardly be distinguished from Nigeria or Ivory Coast, and that is not me dismissing those two who have good players like Ndidi, Kessie, Pepe, Osimhen, Aina, Zaha… that is just me saying, right now, if those two are fated to face Argentina, they will fancy their chances more than any other time in football history.
But that’s not good, without those two being up to par, the World Cup may as well be renamed the Euros With Invited Nations. Uruguay disappeared into the wilderness long ago, as much as I hate to admit it, Asian and African countries are just there to fill up the numbers, and it tells badly on the way they run their football because Nigeria for example, have won more U17 World Cups than any other nation so it’s not for a lack of talent, a good run in a world cup from any of those teams is like Shaktar Donetsk reaching the UCL semis, a victory over say Italy for any of those teams is like Dinamo Zagreb knocking out Tottenham.
I hope I am wrong, talents from their local leagues may just not be known to the rest of the world, but at a time where everything is in Europe and they are so many scouts from European clubs looking for the next pele and maradona, like Pedri who is actually a Spanish player, they would have moved by now. So maybe, it is their league, is it stagnating? I listen with intent as English fans argue who should/should have played, cursing/praising the manager for picking this/that player, it is why England will one day win again, if the current manager is not the right fit, one day they stumble upon a very good manager and they would dominate because, Brasil used to be the ones there.
While the football was mostly turgid and boring, the technical skill on display in Spain’s 0-0 draw was satisfying to watch. To distract myself from the dullness of tiki-taka football being played by a nearly static Spain 11, I spent most of the match trying to work out which foot was the preferred one for each of the Spanish players. Not an easy task. Other than when they had acres of space to work with, and then their preferred option became visible, most of the players seemed fully content and confident to control, move and release the ball perfectly well with either foot. This allowed them to square up to defenders so as to leave themselves able to move or pass in several directions, a nightmare to defend against. And full commendations to Sweden, keeping that clean sheet looked like an exhausting evening’s work.
This brings me onto one of my biggest pet peeves about the game in England: Single-footed professional players, getting paid millions to run around after a ball, but who can’t do a simple thing like pass or shoot a ball with their ‘other’ foot. Even more annoying is the way the English footy media and commentary make excuses for this pathetic lack of professionalism – typified by the ex-pro commentator lamenting that ‘he hit it with his weaker foot’. As if they don’t do near-enough-nothing-else but train to play this sport. In Spain, a two footed player is not that big a deal. Here it’s fetishized like some sort of exotic oddity, which it really shouldn’t be.
Harry Kane is one of the best examples (though not the only one)of a two-footed player in the English game, he’ll control a ball and shape up to take a shot with either foot, and his stats back up his proficiency with either foot. It’s what makes him such as good striker. Why can’t more people in football, including media, commentators and players realise that two-footed skills makes for better players in any position. The number of times we see England players twisting themselves into knots because they have to receive the ball only on their fav foot, or spurning a perfectly good scoring chance cuz they insist on taking the extra touch to switch the ball to the other foot, or defenders miscontrolling a pass for the same reasons. The fact is, however, that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect players to do most things well with either foot. It’s not that hard to learn, and they are paid to do just that.
I think the lack of ability comes down to how and where football is learned. In Spain, at younger ages it’s mostly played in small, hard court, futbal-sala courts(five a side, with a smaller, heavier, and less bouncy ball). The smaller court means tight control and speed of ball movement is essential, leading to players who can receive, control, and move the ball well with either foot. I do find it strange that, given our miserable winter weather, indoor, hard court football-sala style footy isn’t more popular in this country. In any case, we’re starting to do better, and some of our younger players coming onto the scene do appear to be technically much more proficient than in years past. Maybe we’ll get there yet. Rant over.
One of the frustrating things about football is the sheer ignorance you see in certain fans. Take Matthew (ITFC) who wrote about Scottish “hoof ball”. That is just plain ignorance, not based on facts. We might well be amongst the weaker teams in the tournament, but you cannot say that our style of play is to hoof it.
Against the Czech Republic we had 58% possession. We made 469 passes to their 347. England by comparison made 454 against Croatia. Our long ball accuracy was 38%. England’s was 33%. If Scotland are a team that plays “hoof ball” what does that make England?
I’ve absolutely no problem with people pointing out we’re not the best team in the tournament, but at least do your research. We try to play decent football and are not a long ball team.
Mike, LFC, London
It’s coming home…
It’s coming home but will be taking a detour to Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy or Portugal!
Best of country XI…
Do love a good XI idea, Neill from Ireland dropped a top class suggestion in this morning with the best players to pull on an international shirt for their country through different generations, now the general idea for this side is just imagine all of the players in their prime, thought i would head to Finland and Denmark as they have always had strong players and Denmark did after all win the Euros back in 1992.
GK: Lukáš Hrádecký
RB: Erkka Petäjä
CB: Sami Hyypia
CB: Niklas Moisander
LB: Petri Pasanen
CM: Teemu Tainio
CM: Roman Eremenko
CAM: Jari Litmanen
FWD: Juhani Peltonen
FWD: Teemu Pukki
FWD: Mikael Forssell
GK: Peter Schmeichel
RB: Thomas Helveg
CB: Simon Kjaer
CB: Morten Olsen
LB: Jan Heintze
MID: Henrik Larsen (No not him, the Danish one)
MID: Christian Eriksen
MID: Brian Laudrup
FWD: Michael Laudrup
FWD: Allan Simonsen
FWD: Jon Dahl Tomasson
I am sure many of these are up for debate, but i feel they would showcase some incredible football on the world stage, would they win anything? maybe the European Championship, after all, no one fancied Greece in 2004 or Denmark in 1992, you never know.