Can England recover from the haunting of the 2018 World Cup?
England will play their first EURO 2020 group stage match against Croatia tomorrow. This fixture to some fans will bring back the unwanted memories of England’s ultimately disappointing exit in the semi-finals in 2018. I will discuss here the key issues that Gareth Southgate needs to solve and also the problems England can also exhibit onto their opponents.
What were the main issues in the World Cup game?
Firstly it is important to noteThere is an issue with my comparison with the World Cup semi final due to it being 3 years ago and the fact that England and Croatia have also played in games after the World Cup. However, I believe I can still make decent conclusions as to recurring events that could play out tomorrow.
Retrospectively, we can already see that Southgate developed a much more balanced midfield set up after the World Cup. For example, in the semi-final, Southgate chose a midfield 3 of Lingard, Alli and Henderson. However, for the later Nations League win, Southgate moved to a preferred three of Dier, Delph and Barkley. The latter is far more defensive minded than the former. I believe this could hint at Southgate’s potential selection for the Euros game as we now have better players than Delph and Barkley, for example, Bellingham or Mount. This means that we could potentially see Southgate go with a much more balanced midfield rather than picking relatively similar players like Alli and Lingard. This will benefit England as, just like in chess, control of the middle of the park is the most important thing to ensure sustained pressure. This means that we can press much higher and try to nullify the previously felt effects of players like Modrić as his control over the midfield could be the main factor in reducing Croatia’s attacking threat.
Similarly, the threat of Perišić cannot be understated too as he is incredibly talented coming off the wing and either shooting or using his proficient dribbling skill to create chances. Most likely, Gareth Southgate will trust a similar formation to the one he used in the Romania game as this team has the potential with better players to control these threats as developed wingers like Rashford or Sancho can also help to defend as they drop back which wasn’t necessarily likely to happen in the world cup games as the width was mostly only occupied by wing-backs.
How will England set up then?
There is potential for Southgate to revert back to basics with his 3-5-2 that was so effective in the World Cup. This could be due to wanting to facilitate both Kyle Walker as more of a defensive shield but also allow a more attacking full back like Reece James to attack or, it could be to shield a presumably weak back line due to Maguire’s absences through injury. However, Southgate has preferred a 4-3-3 in pre-season friendlies and more recent international tournaments. Therefore, this setup is probably more likely. The main variety comes in the full-back and winger areas as his selection choices could bring benefits and hindrances. Also, those who will join Kane up top is interesting too as mentioned by Jamie Rooke on Arch Ball previously. Consequently, England could vary these two areas very well therefore affect how england play. For example, should Southgate select Reece James, England will be able to hold much more possession higher up the pitch however you may miss the recovery pace and experience of Kyle Walker which could give Croatia plenty of chances in transition.
There is more than enough talent in this squad to do plenty of damage to this Croatia team. The main issue will be is if we can actually cause this damage to our opponents or will we end up stumbling at the first hurdle and damage our own longevity in this tournament?