Southgate's flawed thinking puts England's Euro 2024 progress on ice

By Sports Desk June 20, 2024

England have a track record of not being at their best in the second matches of major tournaments.

At Euro 2020, Scotland held out for a goalless draw at Wembley. At the 2022 World Cup, it was the United States who frustrated the Three Lions in a 1-1 draw.

In Frankfurt on Thursday, at Euro 2024, it was Denmark's turn. Harry Kane's opener was cancelled out by Morten Hjolmund's long-range stunner.

Yet this was an England performance that has been long in the making, and their manager Gareth Southgate must shoulder plenty of the blame.

England headed into Euro 2024 as one of the favourites, but on the evidence of their first two matches, then barring flashes, that tag is definitely not befitting.

In the end, England could arguably be considered as being fortunate to come away with a point. The Danes accumulated 0.58 expected goals to the Three Lions' 0.36 in the second half, and looked the more likely to score even if they didn't truly test Jordan Pickford.

England did take the draw, which sees them stay top of Group C, albeit they missed the chance to secure passage into the last 16 as group winners.

With four points, they should progress, but there is no guarantee on which of the top three places they will take, and Southgate has plenty of food for thought.

But under Southgate, England have now failed to win 13 games in which they led at some stage, losing five of those.

What can he do to change track?

 

TAA in midfield should come to an end

The Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment must stop. He is not a midfielder.

This is a prime example of Southgate's flawed thinking. Alexander-Arnold is a world-class player, but he is a full-back who needs the freedom to drift infield - he is not a midfielder. Indeed, at times during his 54 minutes on the pitch, he resembled a spare part.

That being said, Southgate will likely point to the numbers: Alexander-Arnold created three chances, a team-high, played five line-breaking passes and registered an 87.5 per cent passing accuracy, while also attempting two crosses.

But there is a severe lack of balance in that area of the field, and it is skewing the entirety of England's system.

Southgate's attempt to address that was by bringing on Conor Gallagher, who is a busy box-to-box presence, but does not solve the issue of balance. Jude Bellingham drops deep to get on the ball, but with Phil Foden stationed out wide, there is nobody dropping into the '10 spot' with regularity.

Get Kane involved

A move away from 4-2-3-1, which has seemingly been introduced to get the best out of Bellingham as a number 10, might in turn benefit Kane.

The Bayern Munich star, fresh from scoring 44 goals for the Bundesliga giants, showed his clinical edge with the only chance he got, but that was the sole touch he managed in Denmark's box.

His tally of 22 touches was two fewer than England's captain managed against Serbia (24), and he found himself hauled off in a bizarre triple change around the 70th minute.

Southgate threw on Ollie Watkins as Kane's replacement, but why not try the two together? 

Kane's opener was his fifth goal at the Euros, making him the first England player and eighth player overall to score five or more goals at both the men's World Cup and the European Championship. How can you take such a threat off with the match poised at 1-1?

Jarrod Bowen and Eberechi Eze were the other substitutes handed a chance - they hardly struck fear into Denmark's defence. Anthony Gordon, a winger truly capable of stretching the opposition and offering England a threat down the left, was left on the bench, as was Cole Palmer, the Premier League's Young Player of the Season. Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford didn't make the squad, of course.

Bowen and Eze contributed just 22 touches between them; neither of the duo created a chance, nor had a shot.

Food for thought on Foden

If Foden is going to start for England, then it has to be in a central role.

His best work is done in the middle of the pitch, which is increasingly crowded, and, with Kieran Trippier playing left-back, Foden is too often isolated if he tries to operate out on the flank. As it is, Foden is operating in a halfway house, and not fulfilling either role particularly well.

 

But the 24-year-old was England's most effective attacker on Thursday. He had the most shots (four), and was desperately unlucky to strike the post with one of them, which came after he drifted over into a more central position.

Too often, though, he was out wide with little support. He did not have a single touch in the attacking third in the width of the six-yard box, and while Denmark did an admirable job defensively, there is so much more to come.

Foden has to improve, yet this system and tactics are simply coming nowhere near close to getting the best out of him.

And that is one of several problems Southgate, who has done so much good work during his tenure, must solve. As it stands, he does not look like the manager best suited to coaching this squad of superstars.

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