Following victory over Germany, England find themselves in the Quarter-final of a major international tournament.
I know, we’ve been here before.
So why should it be any different?
As I mentioned, we’ve been here before and it hasn’t worked out. Three years ago at the 2018 World Cup, we found ourselves through to the Quarter’s after a close, tense game against Colombia.
We seemingly faced an easy run to the final, and confidence was high that after 52 years of hurt, it was coming home.
However, we all know that was not the case.
Nevertheless, despite many differences to the 2018, there are some similarities, most glaringly of all, the confidence amongst the English people.
In the build-up to, and during, tournaments such as Euro 2012, the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, there was little to no REAL confidence that England would be able to make an impression.
Here’s why Euro 2020 is different, and why Football may actually come home after so many years away.
The road to glory
To start, lets look at one of the other similarities to the last World Cup.
The potential path to the final.
England will face Ukraine on Saturday evening in Rome and for many, this is a favourable draw.
There is a confidence that come 10pm on Saturday, England will be in a Euro’s final for the first time since 1996. This confidence comes from a variety of factors, namely the gulf in quality, in England’s favour, between the two sides, and the fact that Ukraine were extended to Extra-time against Sweden on Tuesday evening.
If England are successful, they will face the winner of the other Quarter-final on England’s side of the draw, either Denmark or the Czech Republic.
Once again, either team would be a favourable draw for England.
The Three Lions have already proven they can beat the Czech Republic, following a 1-0 victory at Wembley in their final group fixture. Whereas, similar to Ukraine, there is also a gulf in quality, in England’s favour, against Denmark – despite their quality.
Following this, England will face one of Italy/Belgium/Spain/Switzerland in the final, the likelihood is that England will face a side of real quality, but with confidence hopefully high, a victory could be on the cards.
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The tactics and management
Many people criticise Gareth Southgate regularly, myself included, however, thus far this summer he has set out a team with tactics that win Football games.
With the squad at Southgate’s disposal, many would opt to utilise much more of the attacking talent, yet, Southgate has been rational with his selections, opting for the best team in his eyes – regardless of individual talent.
Take some of the most popular players in the squad prior to this tournament, Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho – all have been forced to spend the majority of the tournament watching on from the bench, Sancho especially, whilst players unfancied by the fans prior to the tournament, such as Raheem Sterling and Kalvin Philips have been some of the most impressive performers for England.
We saw another example of Southgate being rational in selection against Germany. The England manager opted to return to the 3-4-3 formation that many fans strongly disagree with.
As a formation, 3-4-3 limits the amount of attacking players that can be included, with five defenders and two holding midfielders often selected, as was the case against Germany – hence the poor reaction from fans, it is a system that limits the creativity and attacking Football that is more common in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.
However, it worked to perfection against Germany – showing that Southgate’s confidence in his own tactics and team selection was well-placed.
Favourable draws are often unlikely, and whilst tactics can take you so far, to win tournaments, you need the players to execute those tactics, and England have exactly those players.
Going into the tournament, there was an excitement around the squad that England possessed, it seemed as though we had a squad that could deliver. A solid defence, a reliable, talented midfield and an incredibly talented, frontline with plenty of depth.
This confidence has continued into the tournament, yet some of the players with question marks next to their name have stepped up.
Jordan Pickford, whose club form has left a lot to be desired, has been excellent in goal, so far playing his part in keeping four clean sheets from four games, with huge saves against Germany from Timo Werner and Kai Havertz shots being a particular high point. Raheem Sterling also struggled for his club, Manchester City, this season. However, goals in three of England’s four games (Croatia, Czech Republic and Germany) mean he is England’s top-scorer so far, and was at one point the only player to have scored for the Three Lions.
Unfancied depth players such as Kalvin Philips and Tyrone Mings have put in strong performances. Philips has started every game alongside Declan Rice in the midfield, with a Man of the match performance against Croatia drawing praise. Whereas, despite featuring in only two games , versus Croatia and Scotland, Mings deputised for Harry Maguire excellently alongside John Stones at centre-back.
Additionally, fan favourites, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, have been excellent when called upon, providing attacking flair and creativity to drive England forward and threaten the opposition. Furthermore, players such as John Stones and Luke Shaw, who weren’t near the England squad a year ago, have continued their excellent club form and stood out for England.
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