Gareth Southgate takes his England side to Rome to face Ukraine this Saturday in the European Championships Quarter Finals. The draw has worked out somewhat kind, but decisions must be made as to how they approach this vital knockout game. Ukraine have become this competitions version of Greece, grinding their way into an impressive position against the odds. With no elite players, manager Andriy Shevchenko has managed to orchestrate an admirable run thus far. To look beyond this Ukraine side could prove fatal, and Southgate must consider his team selection carefully, in order to implement another strong performance.
In overcoming Germany in the last 16, the pre match team news was followed by raised eyebrows regarding a supposed negativity. The match played out very much in England’s favour, and the limitations placed upon Germany’s midfield, proved Southgate correct. Neither Toni Kroos or Leon Goretzka could overcome a dogmatic England midfield, and the defensive line was able to snuff out much of the Germans attacking threat. The decision to omit Serge Gnabry in Timo Werner’s place seemed strange, surely working in the three lions favour. With Jordan Pickford continuing the perform in goal, the defensive shape appears sound, as the next round awaits.
Harry Maguire returning to the side has no doubt brought more organisation, leadership and stability to England’s defence. With Ukraine perhaps offering less of an offensive threat (than the Germans), it may now suit Southgate to sacrifice Kieran Tripper for added fire power. England must surely approach this game on the front foot, and use the squad to take the game away from the Ukrainian side. Jack Grealish and Phil Foden may well be vying for a starting spot, and the re-introduction of Mason Mount is also a possibility. With more time on the ball, and presumably more dominance of the game, they will certainly need progressive players if Shevchenko opts to low block, and counter their way through the game.
Harry Kane scoring late on will come as welcome relief, with his abilities a much needed asset moving into the business end of the competition. Raheem Sterling must keep his starting place & Bukayo Saka will have a strong case for selection, given his ability to create havoc. Therefore a potential addition in behind Kane (in place of Trippier), may well serve England best in order to extract a more fluid game plan. A 4-2-3-1 may well be the way forward, and still allow many options from the bench, whoever starts.
With the draw opening up nicely, there is a real chance for England to taste European success this summer. The group stage was navigated without much issue, and Germany were impressively dispatched. It cannot be overlooked however, that England were unable to overcome Croatia in the last World Cup, nor Belgium (twice). Southgate must look to continue varying his play to suit the opposition, where the last major competition saw England fail to beat any real threat that came there way. To beat Germany this time around is a great achievement, but means little if they can not march on. Germany are a team in real transition, with the late call ups to Thomas Muller & Mats Hummels, maybe disrupting what should have been the blooding of a new generation of internationals. They were soundly beaten in the end, but not without Pickford being called into action, therefore England cannot afford any complacency in order to achieve ultimate success.
The time is closing till kick off, and the semi final is there if England perform. The starting of either Grealish or Foden should be strongly considered, and hopefully both Harry Kane’s & England’s confidence can grow further. With either Denmark or the Czech Republic awaiting the winner, England fans can start to hope that this may well be the year to end the hurt.