England under Gareth Southgate: are we now past the peak?

I am very aware that Football CFB’s readership is quite largely Scottish, So, you can take this as you will, maybe you’ll quite enjoy this? But I have been thinking about England’s national team for a while now and it almost seems as though I need to get this stuff off my chest. 

The issue for me started to arise when I took the withdrawal of four players from the International side for Jack Grealish to get a call up. And trust me I could talk for hours about the way the England international team is picked so I will try and compose myself.

Credit: Wikiolo

From my perspective, to get into the international team of any country, you must have been playing games recently before the call. You must be playing to a reasonably high standard of football (And I don’t mean league!) and, a more controversial opinion, the team you are playing for must be doing well. Back in Euro 2016 England called up one Leicester City player despite Leicester having just won the league! The confidence of that squad must have been through the roof and despite that team having six or seven starting England players. Instead Roy Hodgson picked five Liverpool players when they had just finished 8th, he even picked two Everton players despite them finishing 11th! The confidence in that squad was beyond low, and as a result we lost to Iceland. The lowest point arguably ever in the history of the National side. 

Just over a month ago I felt like we were watching that side once again as we just managed to scrape a 1-0 victory over Iceland, with Iceland missing a penalty in the final moments.  

In recent times it has seemed as though England under Southgate have been improving, even beating Belgium managed to shroud how poor of a game it really was and how ridiculously bad the team had been on a whole since the start of the Nations League. 

Against Iceland we had 78% possession because that is just how Iceland play and yet we only mustered 4 shots on target. One of those being a 91st minute penalty. Then against Denmark we were lucky to escape with a point. Denmark had the better chances, played better and most importantly played in the modern 4-3-3 formation. And this is where Southgate is almost voluntarily putting his head on the chopping board.

Credit: Кирилл Венедиктов

For some reason he thinks that he can hypnotise us into believing that he is playing an attacking 3-4-3 a formation that teams can thrive under. This formation takes a lot of time to integrate into players with position rotation and recovery one of the biggest factors for this formation to work. Playing this at international level, if the players are not already experienced, is suicide. Bringing together a group of players who are used the systems of all their individual clubs and then trying to get them to play a completely different way in 2 weeks just isn’t going to work!  

In the whole England set up, there is ONE player is set up to play with three at the back and wing backs. Conner Coady. He plays a central role in a rolling 3-4-3 at Wolves that at times is completely devastating and surprisingly, or at least to me anyway, he was picked to play against Denmark. Probably because Southgate has realised, he is the only defender who knows how to play that way. But that does not matter because around him he has 10 players who DO NOT know or play the formation. Almost every player in that team plays 4-3-3. So, when Southgate is playing this formation, even with the world class players that he has, the formation he is really playing is 5-2-3. And the Denmark line-up makes even less sense! Walker, Coady, Maguire, James and Maitland-Niles were the back line that was chosen. 3 of those players naturally play as Right Backs. Yes, Walker has played their before and played CB well put that was nearly 2 years ago for Man City.

Credit: Tomasz Baranowski

The final part in terms of formation, if he is set on having five at the back, then why oh why do we need the two most defensively minded Midfielders that England have to offer playing in the midfield? Don’t get me wrong the idea of Rice and Phillips in midfield is actually quite exciting but with one little tweak. They have another midfielder with them who can relive them of being under constant pressure so that they can be more creative. Leaving them on their own means that England are playing SEVEN defensive players on the field at the same time!

We constantly talk about how England have section issues, mainly because as Southgate would put it ‘We have a pool and plethora of talent’ so why on earth are we stuck with Mason Mount on the right wing? Yes, he is a good player and a respect his off the ball work ethic from a lad who clearly wants to make a point in the England squad. But why is he starting ahead of the vastly better Sancho? Why is Southgate so determined to play Mount out of his natural position to fill a whole that does not need filling?  

Honestly before writing this I wrote down a list of points I wanted to make, but honestly, I think just showing them makes the point itself.  

  • Jack Grealish, why does he continually doubt him?
  • Stop picking players in poorly performing sides.
  • Stop purposely avoiding players who play for teams that aren’t the big 6!
  • Maguire – why?
  • Pickford – why?
Credit: Sven Mandel

Honestly, I feel as though 2018 was a massive high. After years of relative drab and boring Football Southgate looked as though he was making things more exciting again. I had been drawn into the plan and I seriously thought that with the pool that England have, that we genuinely have a chance of winning something! Maybe not the World Cup but something! But now it seems as though the old England curse is beginning to strike. The Manager has gone mad, his picks are bad, his formation is crazy, and he is making England boring again.

If your Scottish “Long may it continue”, if you’re English “I want that axe to start swinging”.

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