As England take on Belgium and Denmark in the UEFA Nations League on Sky Sports, we explore whether the Three Lions are in good hands under Southgate…
By Virgin TV Edit
Is the honeymoon period over for Gareth Southgate and England? The Three Lions started their UEFA Nations League campaign in underwhelming fashion last month, labouring to a 1-0 win over Iceland before drawing 0-0 with Denmark. With faint flickers of discontent heard among media and supporters following those matches, that magical summer of 2018 suddenly felt a long time ago.
Southgate and England now have the chance to redeem themselves when they continue in the UEFA Nations League against Belgium (who are ranked the number one side in the world) and Denmark at Wembley, with both matches live on Sky Sports.
Can England’s leader remind us why the national team is in a good place with him at the wheel? Or is this the beginning of the end for the romance? Here, we take a look at both sides of the argument…
Are England progressing under Gareth Southgate?
Southgate isn’t afraid to toss younger players into the pressure cooker of international football, prepping them for major tournaments to come. Against Denmark alone he played four debutants – the first time this had been done in a competitive England match since 1962. If England managers in years gone by have been accused of picking the same old players, you can’t say the same for Southgate. This type of long-term thinking is a good thing.
In England’s last match against Denmark, Southgate played seven defensive players in his starting lineup. And guess what? They had just two shots on target and drew 0-0. What happened to the swashbuckling side of 2018? You know, the one that swaggered its way to the World Cup semi-finals? This wasn’t the first time Southgate had got his gameplan wrong. More tactical conservatism and the heat will be truly on.
With England currently fourth in the FIFA world rankings, Southgate must be doing something right. The Three Lions have lost just one of their last nine competitive matches, scoring 28 goals in that time (that’s just over three per game). Sure, the last two games acted like visual sedatives, but this is a team and a manager that clicks more often than not – sometimes with thrilling results.
After Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood went off script in Iceland last month, questions were rightly raised over whether Southgate possessed the respect of the dressing room we all blithely assumed he had. It suddenly felt like his good nature was being taken advantage of, his cool demeanour revealed as nothing more than a lack of clout. Despite dropping Foden and Greenwood for these matches, is this a manager who is too nice for his own good?
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Southgate has led England to two semi-finals in their last two tournaments (the 2018 World Cup and 2018-19 Nations League). You’d have to go all the way back to Terry Venables at Euro 96 to find the last Three Lions coach to guide the team to the last four (a tournament Mr Southgate remembers all too well). Still, he doesn’t have a 100% win record like Sam Allardyce.
Tactics aside, it’s Southgate’s approach to picking the right players in the first place that also raises eyebrows. For example, his reluctance to use both Jack Grealish and Danny Ings more in England’s last UEFA Nations League matches hinted at a wider problem the manager has of not seeing the wood for the trees. We shudder to think what his Fantasy Premier League team looks like.
England’s UEFA Nations League matches on Sky Sports
England v Belgium
Sunday 11 October, 4.30pm, Sky Sports Football/HD (CH 513/503)
England v Denmark
Wednesday 14 October, 7pm, Sky Sports Main Event/HD (CH 511/501)
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