False alarm. No need to get concerned. I thought for a day or two that I was starting to appreciate this England team, but then Gareth Southgate helped me to remember that England and International football is kind of garbage most of the time.
The win over Iran had purpose, there was a speed of passing, an organised England team who were ruthless in their finishing and looked like they may have turned a corner in terms of realising the potential of some of these players.
The draw with the USA last night felt like a very large backwards step. There was no speed of passing. There was no progression in the football quickly enough. There was no rapid movement of the ball and the English press had no real element of co-ordination about it.
In short, what we all saw yesterday was an England team just like all of its predecessors in most international tournaments of the last 20+ years: less than the sun of its parts.
We should at this juncture give some credit to the US team. They had a game plan that was expertly executed. Their press looked good. They played well and their midfield looked like it was functioning. They allowed England to have sterile possession at the back and when it got in to midfield they hunted it down and turned the ball over. In defence they were hardly troubled all night and if Matty Turner and Bukayo Saka were having a conversation before the match about the game, I doubt either would have thought they’d be speaking afterwards and talking about how little he’d have been troubled by his Arsenal teammate.
But whilst Bukayo was quiet, he was one of the least of England’s troubles, because Mount was utterly anonymous all night. Sterling barely got in to the game and Harry Kane did little. There was lots of talk about the firepower in the England team before this match, but on a showing like that yesterday, there won’t be too many teams worried about what this side can offer this tournament.
Maybe it was just an off day. Maybe some players just didn’t want to lose and so took the draw. Maybe Bellingham is a fantastic talent but he had his ‘one game’ against Iran? Maybe this England team isn’t as good as everyone thinks. Every team can have an off day.
But whilst players can have an off day, as a coach, what you have to do is make decisions that are going to change things in your favour. That is where Southgate failed big time yesterday. At halftime it was fairly obvious the US had a game plan that was working, so as somebody watching you’re hoping that the coach/manager sees that and makes changes. Change the set up, change the personnel, change something. Anything.
But Southgate sent his side out for the second half to play exactly the same way.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Southgate waited until 68 minutes before doing anything. His decision to bring on Henderson for Bellingham was bizarre. The US is a young team with legs, so you’re bringing on an ageing more defensive-minded midfielder for the more attack-minded Bellingham?
His decision to bring Grealish on looked half decent and he got in to some decent positions, but he became isolated after a few initial good showings and the game quickly slotted back in to the pattern of the US having control. Mason Mount stayed on and continued to do nothing. It was baffling.
But then again we must remember who Gareth Southgate is: a tactically limited manager who has fostered a good environment for talented players. That is why at times England have looked good over the last three years, but ultimately they will always fall short; the manager does not know how to make the right tactical calls to change games. Plus he has ‘his’ players and he won’t deviate away from them. The fact Maguire always plays is an example of that, but to be fair to Maguire, he’s looked ok on this competition and has been the least of our worries.
Last night was an opportunity to win the group and render the Wales game irrelevant. Now the English team go in to it knowing that it is a straight knockout. If Wales win they go through. If England win they go through. The draw also puts England through but Wales will be fired up for that and having watched England yesterday, they’ll know exactly what to do to set up against them.
The Welsh will be massively fired up for that one and to be fair to their fans, they’ll be in full song and bring the pressure as the underdogs. There’s no doubt that they are technically less superior than England, but then again so were the US team, and they showed that as long as you are organised and tactically on plan, you can easily stifle this England team. That will give Wales plenty of hope.
It’s France v Denmark today which looks quite tasty, as well as Argentina vs Mexico. The Argies have to win to get their tournament back on track and I suspect they will, but the other game intrigues me, because I think it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, as I don’t think France will get it their own way against the Danes. We shall see.
Right, I’ll call time on todays blog proceedings, I think. I’m off for a run and another day of footie watching. Catch you sexy bitches soon – maybe tomorrow, but maybe not, as I have a belated birthday party organising this evening.