The Changes Gareth Southgate Must Make Going Forward

Gareth Southgate

On Friday night, Gareth Southgate and his England side came to a sad realisation – one that is all too common amongst England supporters.  That is that football may not be coming home as easily as we would like. Scotland held the Three Lions to a drab 0-0.  With a performance that was heavily lacking in creativity, fans across the country are questioning Southgate’s managerial ability.  What did he do that caused England’s misery?  Was the players’ performance out of his control? What can Southgate do differently against Czech Republic on Tuesday?

Changes That Gareth Southgate Must Make Going Forward

Worries on the Wing

Registering one shot on target against the third lowest-ranked team in the Euros is unacceptable.  It’s a stat that will eat at Harry Kane’s confidence, as he produced one of his worst performances in an England shirt.  With his chances being non-existent throughout the game, his position of being one of the world’s most valued players could never have been guessed from that performance. 

However, at the peak of Harry Kane`s form, he has never been one to create his own chances.  His best performances at Tottenham Hotspur come alongside winger Son Heung-min; a creative player on the wing that can find opportunities in the tightest of spaces whether that be through dribbles or passes. It’s something that England’s starting wingers are not too renowned for. 

Despite Phil Foden being more accustomed to performing to these expectations, he is too young and inexperienced to take on this role on his own when so many around him are also lacking form. Despite a common belief that Foden should be a set in stone starter for England, the same cannot be said for Raheem Sterling.  For a player that has rarely seen performances worthy of the level of an England starter, most England fans are scratching their heads at the involvement of the Manchester City winger who no longer starts for his club. 

Although he is England’s only goal scorer so far, Sterling’s performance in the first game was salvaged by one well-placed finish.  Prior to this goal, it could be argued that he was largely lacking behind the rest of his teammates throughout the match.  For a player whose playstyle is to cut in quickly and run through a defensive line, his ability to keep the ball when attempting to go through players has been below par for some time.

This problem, however, seems quite a simple one to solve in the minds of England supporters.  This exact style of play is what substitute Jack Grealish has used to impress so many this season, a truly creative, in-form player who came on for Foden against Scotland for the last 25 minutes. He is a player that could really create chances for Kane, along with scoring himself.  Having someone with Grealish’s ability on the pitch could also be a major positive for a player like Mason Mount in the middle, offering him another player for the Chelsea man to work off in that middle position.  

Motionless Midfield  

One of the most painful viewings of the match against Scotland was the repeated backwards and sideways passing from the midfield and wing-backs.  Completely devoid of forward creativity, it isn’t difficult to see why chances in this game were so rare. 

The expectation on Luke Shaw and Reece James to push forward seemed thwarted by Scotland’s decision to play five at the back.  Unfortunately for England, the decision to play two defensive midfielders did not help the attacking inability.  In fairness to Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice, their role is not to be creative going forward.  With options such as Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson on the bench, the chance to switch up the centre midfield was there. 

Supposing the defensive backline was the most solid aspect of England’s performance, the opportunity to take off one defensive midfielder for a more attacking one seemed like an obvious one to take.  The team was crying out for a player like Henderson to use controlled forward passing or a player such as Bellingham to carry the ball from England’s own half into a threatening position.  The fact neither of these players started, let alone come on as a substitute, seems like massive misjudgement from Gareth Southgate and a possible lack of trust in the centre-back pairing.  

Unused Substitutions

In both of England’s games this tournament, we have seen Phil Foden substituted.  Despite being impressive, his performance seems to fade during the second half, possibly due to his high work rate without an equally high fitness level. 

However, luckily for England, the team possesses the most sought after winger in world football.  Being valued around the £100 million mark, this player has provided his team with the skill and pace to cause opponents headaches and provide his teammates with chances.  Unfortunately for England however, Gareth Southgate doesn’t quite see him as a fit for this team. Jadon Sancho is a perfect player to have on the bench when a wing pairing is not performing at the highest level. 

The rotation of Foden and Sancho seems self-explanatory to most, with the Borussia Dortmund youngster offering that blistering pace down the wing, along with his ability to cut in and play through the middle. This seems to be the perfect compliment to England’s tactics of short passing from the midfielders, with the occasional long ball from Jordan Pickford needing fast players to get on the end of them.  

Gareth Southgate really has got some questions to ask of himself and the players.  Is it a blind favoritism that picks some positions?  Does he need to be braver with his attacking play? One thing is for certain – performances like the one against Scotland will see England crash out of the Euros as soon as they come up against the best of the competition. 

With the hype and expectation of one of England’s best crop of players, the thought of them drastically underperforming in this tournament could be devastating.  Not just for now, but also for the future development of these players and their aspirations of being the best of the best.  


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