England took on USA in the Qatar Winter World Cup on Friday, in a 0-0 dismal and lacklustre team and coaching performance.
Southgate went with an unchanged starting line-up: Pickford, Trippier, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Rice, Bellingham, Mount, Sterling, Saka and Kane (C).
The game saw the Three Lions quickly lose control as they were dominated by USA for large parts of the game, who grew in confidence as they were able to target success in the midfield areas.
Whilst England had 55% possession to USA’s 45%, the English CB’s Stones and Maguire had the ball the most, with England rarely venturing with any real threat into the final third.
To have 55% possession and only 8 shots, 3 of which were on target was like Manchester City vs. Spurs and we all know how terrible those games are. Nevertheless, this is the World Cup, not the Premier League.
As England were losing control of the game and failing to create any chances, Southgate made some changes in the second half, bringing on Grealish and Henderson for Sterling and Bellingham in the 68th minute.
Grealish made quite the impression and having been on the pitch for just over 20 minutes, was the most fouled player. The substitutions enabled England to regain some composure, however remained toothless.
Rashford was later brought on for Saka, though we could argue that the substitution was left a little too late for him to make much of an impact.
Fans and sporting stars alike were both baffled and furious not to see Phil Foden be introduced:
What went wrong for Southgate’s passive side?
Well to start, they are passive. So, there is that. Tactically, Southgate sets up his side for counterattacking football in the players he selects, though, last night they managed only 1 counterattack.
At times there is an attempt to be a more dominant side, but the players he selects are not possession football players and lack the skill or experience required for such style of play, which leads to a struggle of balance.
Harry Kane – counterattacking. Rice – counterattacking. Mount – counterattacking under Tuchel (poor form under Potter). Bellingham – more success with Dortmund since shift in formation (to counterattacking). Sterling – most effective for City on the counter.
When the opposition also sets up in a similar way, only with the ability to adapt, this leaves England with a lack of options. Of the starting XI, who has the ability to manipulate the ball in the way that Foden, Maddison or Grealish can?
Playing both Sterling and Saka on the wings is predictable and can work when the game is open, or when England are in control.
Having purely two runners on each wing when the team lacks rhythm or control leaves a lack of ability to control the tempo of the game. It’s a lot of the same and is unlikely to create many chances unless the opposition box is flooded with attackers.
Southgate can find a way to make opposition defenders uncomfortable and uncertain by having a variety of skills in the forward line. Having a typical pacey winger on one flank, and a more technical player on the other.
Grealish is a prime example of unpredictability in the forward set up; technical ability, ball control, creative, ability to control the tempo and regain control of a game.
Whether Southgate goes for a passive or aggressive style, possession or counter-attacking style is not so much the issue. If two runners or pacey wingers occupy the front line with a striker, the creativity must come from midfield.
If there is no creativity in midfield, who is supplying the attackers? It becomes hoof-ball and cross spamming – hoping for the best. When sides are organised defensively, this is going to limit goal scoring opportunities.
Taking Rice out of the equation, he is the best defensive midfielder we have, and he does his job well. Southgate has preferred both Bellingham and Mount. Neither of which are “creative” in the traditional sense.
Sure, they have the ability to play a basic line breaking pass, which should be no argument at this level of football. However, they could both be described as box-to-box midfielders. They are not going to pull out a defence splitting pass in well organised low block defending against an 8-man wall.
Foden or Maddison would be better suited to play alongside Rice and Bellingham or Mount. It was clear to not only the nation, but to the world last night that Southgate’s side massively lacked a creative flare.
The mentality of Southgate and his England side is concerning. Post-game, both Harry’s and the manager talked of the positive in keeping a clean sheet and the ‘good enough’ defensive performance.
However, the side never looked like winning. They never looked like they were trying to win but trying to not lose. We only need to imagine what Pep or Klopp would have achieved with the mediocre mentality.
However, this is a tournament. Perhaps that mentality and as a result, the lack of consistent performances will work for the World Cup? Though I don’t see Pep asking him for tips on the Champions League any time soon.
What are your thoughts on last night’s World Cup performance?