England will almost certainly go into next year’s Euros with Gareth Southgate in charge. However, increasingly an increasingly large number of fans on social media want Southgate out so is it time for the Three Lions boss to be replaced? England’s below-par showing in the Nations League, coupled with a safety-first approach from Southgate, have led to suggestions that time could be running out for the 50-year-old.
Sean Dyche is currently the favourite in the betting odds for the next England manager, though with Southgate’s contract running to the 2022 World Cup a change is unlikely to be imminent. Could England be getting a lot more out of a rich seam of talent, though?
A new Golden Generation?
The phrase ‘Golden Generation’ is no doubt overused. But England have better options throughout the squad than they have for a long time. Despite this, England underperformed badly in the Nations League this year. Defeats to Denmark and Belgium ensured England could not reach the Nations League Finals, though their efforts ended on a high when Phil Foden inspired a big Wembley win over 10-man Iceland.
It is easy to point to the Nations League being a second-tier competition, but that was not how Southgate and his side treated the tournament when it was launched a couple of years ago. That time, England got to the semi-finals only to lose narrowly to Croatia – as they did in the semi-finals of the last World Cup under Southgate’s stewardship – with third place subsequently secured on penalties against Switzerland.
While this year’s Nations League could and maybe should have been called off due to the pandemic, it gives England a much-needed chance to test themselves against good teams. They were found wanting against Denmark and, despite being able to record a somewhat fortunate win at home to Belgium, Roberto Martinez’s men got revenge in the return game.
Belgium are the number one team in the world according to FIFA’s rankings so there is no shame in one win and one loss over two games against the Red Devils. But the manner of England’s loss in Belgium was rather troubling to see for fans of the Three Lions. A 2-0 scoreline flattered England and they created little in the game even though Belgium, like England, were without some of their most important players.
Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling were among those to be missing and Harry Kane lacked support in their absence. But Southgate tends to revert to an overly defensive shape which makes it hard for the attack to break out at pace.
Faith in youth – but only to an extent
Southgate’s time in charge has been something of a paradox. While he has capped countless talented young players, he seems reluctant to give them a central role.
Foden is touted as one of the best young players of his generation but Southgate is yet to go all in on the Manchester City teenager. Likewise Mason Greenwood, who is currently out of the squad after he and Foden transgressed on the trip to Iceland earlier in the season.
Southgate finally started Jack Grealish in the loss to Belgium and the Aston Villa captain performed well, but a lack of attacking players around him in the side stymied his impact. Jadon Sancho being named on the bench was a surprise given that Sterling and Rashford were absent.
It seems like Southgate will always lean on his favourites. Kyle Walker could easily have been jettisoned after his daft red card in Iceland, considering England’s excellent strength in depth at right-back, but he has instead been made a key part of the back three.
Southgate’s choice of a back three is also telling. While not necessarily a negative tactic, it is surely not necessary for the defence to be protected by two more safe players in midfield in the shape of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson.
At 21, Rice is one of the youngest players to regularly turn out for Southgate but the West Ham man has done little to persuade fans he should be a key cog in the Three Lions machine for the Euros. Eric Dier is another who does not appear to justify the number of games he plays for Southgate.
FA crisis and lack of alternatives in Southgate’s favour
With the Football Association suddenly on the hunt for a new chair after Greg Clarke talked his way out of the job, Southgate has spent more time talking about off-the-field politics than football in the past few weeks.
The former Middlesbrough manager would doubtless prefer to focus on what is happening on the pitch but the Clarke farrago has helped to distract from England’s slide in form.
That Dyche is potentially seen as being Southgate’s most likely successor is another indication his job is almost certainly going to be safe for the foreseeable future. Other possible contenders – according to the bookies, at least – include Phil Neville, Eddie Howe and Aidy Boothroyd. It is not a very inspiring list.
Southgate will be in charge for the foreseeable future but, if England perform as badly at the Euros as they have in the Nations League, there will be pressure on the FA to usher him out.
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