England's Euro Struggles

With the group stage over, I caught up with the pundits to get their thoughts on England ahead of the last sixteen clash with Slovakia.

What have been thoughts on England so far?

Alex:

Dull, uninspiring and lethargic. England’s Euro campaign has not been on easy watch thus far. The lack of balance in the side and signs that Southgate doesn’t know how to use the attacking players at his disposal have created a huge amount of talk over selection, tactics and the manager himself. Personally, I feel a few minor tweaks can turn our fortunes.

Josh:

Underwhelming. Anyone you ask will give you the same answer. That said, it’s never straightforward to top the group as the French kindly demonstrated for us. So in that sense, job done. The rose-tinted spectacles say “there’s a lot more to come”, the pessimistic side of me says “we’ve been here before”. A grim knockout stage loss beckons, or we’ll kick on and go the distance with a favourable side of the draw, there’s no in between

Lowe-Down:

Let’s be honest, it’s been very underwhelming and disappointing. The positives: We’re one of the best sides defensively in the tournament, in terms of XG (expected goals conceded) and actual goals conceded, and we’ve topped the group which was of course the aim coming into the tournament.

Why we’re, of course, underwhelmed, is that we’ve only scored two goals against Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia, winning only one game and playing below expectations. Without the ball, whilst we’ve been solid, we have lacked aggression and intensity and haven’t pressed well. A statistic that can be used to determine how successful you press is passes per defensive action (PPDA), which is how many passes, on average, you allow the opposition to make before you win the ball back. Ours after the Denmark game was 28. We allowed Serbia and Denmark an average of 28 passes before we made a tackle. To compare, the Premier League’s worst was Forest’s who had 17. Spurs had 8. An improvement in our pressing will result in more chances.

However, it’s with the ball where we’ve been far worse. We look unbalanced without a genuine left winger and a left back and devoid of creativity and flair. Kane, starved on service is coming deep to pick up the ball, but with no runners moving into his vacated spot, we’re easy to defend against. The midfield pick next to Rice has not been correct, although Mainoo’s second half performance against Slovenia should mean he gets the nod there against Slovakia.

What should Southgate do?

Alex:

Firstly, Bellingham, who has really faded since the Serbia game, should be moved back alongside Rice to allow Foden to play at 10. The Man City man is the key to our attack and needs to be allowe to dictate from a central position where he flourished at City last season. This then opens up the left wing position to either include Gordon or Palmer, both of whom showed promise during our final group game against Slovenia. If Jude is not dropped deeper, Mainoo in for Gallagher is the other change I would make to improve our ball playing abilities in the middle of the park.

In mentioning Gordon, I feel Southgate needs to be more decisive with his subs. Bringing the Newcastle winger on in the 89th minute last week was a farce. If (when) we are struggling to break Slovenia down the England manager should not leave it late to introduce different personnel. Watkins, Gordon, Palmer, Bowen etc are all capable of stretching the game and offer different qualities to the starting XI. However, they need to be given a proper opportunity to influence the game.

I hope this is the game that England finally wake up and deliver the performance and result we are all craving. However, I think Slovakia will sit in and England’s ability to break sides down has hardly been a strong point so far in this tournament. A long afternoon beckons.

Josh:

Use the partnerships that he has. If Foden has to play as a winger, play him front of walker. If Tripper is fit, play Gordon in front of him until shaw becomes available. Gordon will run beyond Kane and get the best out of him. Mainoo showed he must now start, and Cole Palmer would be in your team if Phil Foden wasn’t Phil Foden. If Trippier isn’t fit, Trent comes in for me.

We have a great run at the final so, I’m positive. Today’s the day we put in a good performance, get a solid win under our belt and kick on!

Lowe-Down:

Bench Bellingham. I’ll say it. Benching Bellingham does not mean he’s that guy, it doesn’t mean he’s a flop, it doesn’t mean he’s not England’s future. However, in the present, I don’t think he’s helping us. England are crying out for Gordon to play left wing to provide natural width and with Mainoo starting in midfield, surely only one of Foden or Bellingham can start, and for me, Foden has to start and has to start centrally.

Southgate said, “your best players are your best players”, and whilst that is true, your best players don’t always make it into your best team. With Southgate wedded to this 4-2-3-1 with Rice and Mainoo sitting, one of Saka and Bellingham may need to sit out and I would bench the latter. Saka or Palmer on the right is another conversation too.

Left back remains a problem whilst Luke Shaw is unfit. Trippier has not convinced and given the left back spot isn’t massively attack minded, I would opt for Walker there and play Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back. Walker provides solidarity and Trent provides attacking creativity that we have lacked this tournament.

We’ve been given a favourable side of the draw and it’s up to us to seize it. It can only get better right?

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