Fix the left flank and stop arguing: the things England must sort out

Estimated read time 5 min read

Stop fretting about pressing

It is easy to play through England at the moment. Gareth Southgate has talked about a high press being a core part of his team’s identity, but it has not functioned properly at Euro 2024. Harry Kane, who is meant to be leading from the front, has looked lethargic and the issue has been exacerbated by Jude Bellingham’s wandering. Yet there is no obligation on England to continue their attempts to press given they have been so confused and uncoordinated. Southgate has to recognise that there are too many gaps to cover once opponents break through the first line of defence. An obvious solution would be to tell his players to drop off and exert a smothering mid‑block. England need to be more awkward to break down. There should be more emphasis on drawing teams out, luring them into traps and then hitting them on the break.

Sort out the left flank

It is not fair to keep asking the right‑footed Kieran Trippier to continue at left-back. It is no surprise that opponents are happy to let Luke Shaw’s stand-in have the ball. Slovakia knew that Trippier would check back on to his right foot and slow England’s attacks. They were fine with him being the highest attacking player on the left flank. But if Southgate is going to persist with Trippier against Switzerland, then the player on the left wing cannot be Phil Foden. Yes, your best players are still your best players, but this is about playing the best team. If it is to be the same old 4-2-3-1 system then either bring in Anthony Gordon or ask the left‑footed Bukayo Saka to move across from the right. England cannot continue to be so unbalanced.

Be more decisive with subs

England’s first change in their win against Slovakia came only when Trippier got injured in the 66th minute, with Cole Palmer brought on for the defender. Their second was 18 minutes later; Eberechi Eze coming on, and their third was in the 94th minute, when Ivan Toney was thrown on just before Bellingham’s equaliser. It is too ponderous. Southgate has two strikers on the bench, so use them. Trent Alexander-Arnold is one of the best crossers in the world, so put him on at right-back if you need a goal. Jarrod Bowen is direct and good at snaffling chances in the box, so don’t overlook him. And if England are losing the midfield battle against Switzerland on Saturday, then think about utilising Adam Wharton’s clever passing before turning to Conor Gallagher’s energy.

Beat the opposition press

Kobbie Mainoo has improved the team’s possession play since coming on at half-time against Slovenia. The youngster is not great off the ball, as Southgate has repeatedly pointed out, but England are coming from a low base and the 19-year-old’s strengths currently outweigh his weaknesses.

But England are still finding it hard to build from the back. Declan Rice is not moving his feet quickly enough, Kyle Walker and John Stones are laboured with their distribution and there have been so many occasions when the ball has just been played back for Jordan Pickford to smash long. There has to be a better way.

It was so frustrating to see Saka repeatedly in space on the right, only for the ball to go to him only when he’d been forced to move deeper, shift his body position so he was facing away from goal and was now being tightly marked. Be quicker.

Bukayo SakaView image in fullscreen

Improve set pieces

England’s output from attacking sset pieces has decreased since they unveiled the love train at the 2018 World Cup (for those who don’t remember, the players would line up close together at corner and then confuse their markers by peeling off into different positions). They scored twice from set pieces at Euro 2020, but both of those goals came in the quarter-final against a feeble Ukraine defence. They scored only two at the 2022 World Cup – Saka’s volley from a flick-on against Iran and Marcus Rashford’s direct free-kick against Wales. But the corners have been poor. Trippier and Foden keep lofting in floaty out‑swingers. Bowen kept hitting the first man against Denmark. Why not give Rice a go?

Consider a new system

Southgate has stuck with the tried and tested. A mid-tournament change is not easy. But he could have success by switching to some form of 3-4-3 against Switzerland. The back three could be Walker, Stones and Ezri Konsa, who is likely to replace the suspended Marc Guéhi. Trippier could provide steel and dangerous deliveries in his old right wing-back role. Saka could play on the left. Mainoo would have fewer defensive responsibilities in this system. Bellingham could drive forward. Southgate could either put Bellingham and another creative player behind Kane – or he could leave one and play a front two. Would the Swiss enjoy Kane moving slightly deeper and looking to release the speed of Ollie Watkins? This isn’t a perfect England squad. But it is still quite flexible and the idea that Southgate is short of options is false.

Stop arguing

The players looked like they hated each other during the first half of the Slovakia game. The vibe is bad. The senior players have to rebuild team spirit and keep heads up when the chips are down.


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