Tired or not, England’s poor performance is getting worrying
Three more games. That’s it. Only three more rehearsals before opening night in Qatar when England confront Iran in their world Cup opener. Whether Gareth Southgate hoped to see his team idling during this series of four UEFA Nations League fixtures with an experimental rotation key on the side then he was wrong.
Ahead of the show at the Khalifa International Stadium, it looks like a bigger seat probe is needed during England’s preparations to eliminate any disjunction. There was little need for such treatment after a well-run qualifying campaign by Southgate and his players, but suddenly England looked a bit jaded and started to drift.
Results against Hungary, Germany and Italy left England rooted to the base of their Nations League group, and there is now the growing prospect of relegation from the top tier of the competition. However, it’s the performance that worries the most. England lacked momentum in all of them and sometimes on Saturday night it felt like spirits were closer to a beach than central England.
Of course, there are mitigating factors. It all comes at the end of a grueling 10-month season that has pushed most players beyond their physical and mental limits. England are not the only team to experience a tedious end to the campaign: Spain fired twice, Belgium lost and fired during France have yet to win any of their last three matches. There is a collective fatigue in European football.
In addition, the minimal attendance at Molineux of 3,000 schoolchildren hardly created an atmosphere that encouraged the English players. It sometimes seemed fairer at school than competitive international action, and Southgate later lamented that “the emotional reaction just wasn’t there”.
However, England’s screens cannot be completely covered in sugar. For all the positivity from Southgate – and rightly so with England having reached a world Cup semi-final and a first final in 55 years in their last two international tournaments – there is a dawning realism that his side are starting to inflate their lines at just the wrong time.
Suddenly there are things to fix for Southgate
It is no more apparent than in attack. England have not scored from open play in their three games this month, with Harry KaneThe late penalty against Germany was the only time Southgate’s side found the back of the net. 1-0, 1-1, 0-0 is a piece of unwanted binary code. “We are very, very dependent on Harry and Raheem [Sterling] for our objectives at the moment and it is a concern,Southgate said after Saturday’s goalless draw with Italy in which Kane started on the bench as part of the team’s managerial rotation.
“We continue to work to get the balls into the right areas, but ultimately in the attacking areas the quality of play is crucial. There was a little lack of sharpness in those areas in all three matches, really. I think we had the players on the pitch today, we made the changes which we hoped would also rejuvenate the squad, but we also faced an Italian team who were very well organised.
“We discussed at length [on Friday] about the need to control games better, which is definitely a desire, but controlling games with possession does not guarantee goals. Ultimately, if you don’t score, you open yourself up to criticism, as I’m sure we will be.
Kane’s 12 goals during world Cup qualifying was head and shoulders above any of his teammates. Central defender Harry Maguire got the second highest number (4). England’s top two passers were Phil Fodenwho has been absent from games this month due to Covid, and Trent Alexandre-Arnoldwhich has yet to be fully adopted by the national team.
In recent matches, England have accumulated 14 shots on target without appearing totally fluid in attack. The quality of their chances was not good enough. Against Italy Tammy Abraham was lucky enough to claim his position as Kane’s assistant, but despite working tirelessly he left the pitch without making an impact.
mason mount has been a regular at Southgate but will need to freshen up and show his talents more clearly when he returns to England in the final warm-up matches in September. The chelsea The striker has started all three of England’s games this month and has been deployed in the No.10 role at Molineux but has yet to create a big chance. He knocked Gianluigi Donnarummaand if the ball had gone in, it would have been his first goal for the national side since March last year.
There were some more positive takeaways from Saturday. Not less Aaron Ramsdalea handful of fine saves to keep a clean sheet, Declan Rice‘s runs from midfield and Southgate’s positive setup using a 4-2-3-1. However, it was only after a 4-3-3 rally and the introduction of Kane, Jarrod Bowen and Kalvin Phillips that England has established some semblance of control.
Rather, it was the inexperienced Italian party sent by Roberto Mancini who had watched the hottest prospects. The reigning European champions do not even take part in the world Cup after the grief of the dams against North Macedonia in March. England cannot take their game in Qatar for granted. If they’re going to make the most of the opportunity before them, they need to be given some life…and fast.