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England – How To Approach The Final Group Game

Scotland came to take on an England side full of hope, and left with a deserved point.

As we close out the groups final games, questions are being asked as to whether or not England have a legitimate chance of winning this tournament. With a top place finish up for grabs, it could soon be confirmed the presumed route to glory.

When looking at Italy, France, Belgium & maybe Germany, it’s hard to see a scenario where England prevail to win this tournament. Italy (with a brilliantly attired Roberto Mancini), are showing a style on the pitch to match their national coach. His confidence is flooding into the side, and his intention to make sure all players represent their nation is commendable. Such intentions leading into the tournament, will have surely galvanised a  squad to repay their manager.

France, despite an abundance of talent, are maybe too fragile in defence to sustain their own bid, and their excellent squad could become too reliant on the brilliance of Kylian Mbappe.

Belgium are a curious side, with attacking components that are often breathtaking, but with defensive frailties in a post Vincent Kompany world, it remains to be seen how deep they can really go.

With Spain & Portugal failing to ignite their own talents consistently, this leaves Germany as the other viable winners. Joachim Low will depart at the tournaments end, and despite some questionable picks (Mats Hummels especially), they have enough depth to surely mount a serious bid.

England have decisions to make, and Gareth Southgate must look at how best to deploy his side. With a fine selection of attacking options, the midfield area (despite impressing against Croatia), have failed to shine when in possession. Where a workmanlike and defensively sound midfield has been opted for, this choosing to protect a limited backline is causing issues further forward.

The idea that the fullbacks are to be both the playmakers and progressive players, has so far failed. The inability to call on Liverpool’s primary playmaker, Trent Alexander Arnold, has seen multiple options tasked at fullback thus far. The balance of defensive responsibility and attacking prowess has yet to be found, and with a lacklustre forward line, Southgate’s lack of true managerial experience on a day to day basis is possibly showing.

The group stage is built to see the strongest nations progress, this is often the way. The knockout games (as with the Champions League), start at the groups end, and this is where the strongest sides must perform to avoid immediate elimination. With Harry Kane struggling for goals, a system or player shift must surely be considered. It may well be for England to perform at their best, then less of the ball may suit the team. The majority of possession they enjoyed versus the Scots simply does not suit Southgate’s system, where a counter attacking style may just.

A team built to be rigid and maintain a sound defensive shape, will often struggle to progress the ball without comfortable ball players in the center or full back areas. With Kyle Walker, the progressive and playmaking duties are in no way part of his duties for Manchester City. Kieron Trippier works within a defensive shape under Diego Simeone, that again does not see him required to influence too much up field. Though Luke Shaw has had a very strong season, United are not prone to pushing too much creativity onto their full backs shoulders, with Bruno Fernandes the focal point of creativity. This leaves Reece James & Ben Chillwell of Chelsea. These two players work predominantly as wingbacks, and could be a route for England to explore. With a shift to 3-4-3, this could help give that much needed balance from defence to attack. The issue would then be how to best coordinate the forward line, as getting the best from Harry Kane must be garnered for tournament success.

With wingbacks used, this could allow any two wide forwards to operate closer to Kane, leaving him less isolated, and prone to dropping deep. The idea that Jadon Sancho will not be used in a lacklustre attack is strange, given his brilliant club form for Dortmund

However Southgate proceeds, he will need to stamp a workable system bespoke to breaking down the opponents that day. Only time will tell whether he can eradicate his own Euro 96 misfortune, and redirect his side to victory.

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