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Controversial Opinion 1 – Gareth Southgate’s England Are Too Conservative To Win The Big Games

Take a look at the current odds available at bet365 Sport on Gareth Southgate’s England to win the Euro 2024 Finals in Germany. At present – England are 7/2 joint favourites to win the tournament along with France.

Furthermore, looking further ahead, England are 13/2 third favourites to win the 2026 World Cup Finals, which are going to be hosted in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

They rank behind joint favourites Brazil and France in that list of odds, but they are comfortably shorter in the betting than current holders of the trophy Argentina (8/1), as well as Spain (9/1), Germany (10/1), Portugal (13/1), Netherlands (16/1) and four-time winners Italy (22/1).

Certainly, since Gareth Southgate’s England reached the World Cup Semi Finals in 2018 and then followed that up with a runner up finish in Euro 2020, there has been a huge amount of optimism for the future of the team.

But is that optimism well-founded?

Southgate's England
3 Lions Roar – Or Do They?

Because I believe that at the crucial juncture in tournaments, Southgate’s conservative approach to games means that England are going to struggle to win.

Let’s try to present a balanced view of this by taking a look at the many positives of Southgate’s tenure with the Three Lions so far.

Southgate’s England – Timeline

Gareth Southgate enjoyed an 18-year professional career at three clubs, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, where he made over 500 league appearances. He also made 57 appearances for England, scoring two goals.

He took over as a manager at Middlesbrough in 2006 and led the Riversiders for three years, but was controversially dimissed just a few months into the 2009/10 season after Middlesbrough had been relegated the season before and Southgate had led them to fourth in the Championship.

Southgate took a spell out of football where he visited a number of clubs to watch training and their approach to the game. Then in 2013, he became England U21 manager in place of Stuart Pearce.

After three years in the role, England sacked manager Roy Hodgson and Southgate stated that he did not want to take on the role. However, Hodgson’s successor Sam Allardyce lasted just one game in charge before he resigned and Southgate was put in temporary charge of the England team.

He led the team to two draws and two wins to ensure qualification for the 2018 World Cup Finals and late in November 2017, he was appointed permanently to the managerial role for England.

England’s expectations for the 2018 World Cup Finals were minimal to say the least. The FA announced Southgate’s appointment and said that he would stay in the role even if the team did not progress beyond the group stages of the tournament.

  • World Cup 2018 – An Unexpected Success

Perhaps a little surprisingly, England qualified through their group in Russia, defeating Tunisia and Panama in their first two games, allowing Southgate to rest key players for their third game where they lost narrowly to Belgium.

In the Round of 16, England faced Colombia and after a dramatic 1-1 draw, England landed their first ever World Cup Penalty Shootout win, defeating the South American’s 4-3. A 2-0 win over Sweden followed in the quarterfinals leading England to a semi-final spot against Croatia.

Kieran Trippier’s free kick gave England the lead and then Harry Kane missed a golden chance to make it 2-0 in the first half. However, in the 2nd half, Croatia began to dominate in midfield and Ivan Perisic levelled to force extra time.

In extra time, Mario Mandzukic scored the winner while England were forced to play the majority of the second half of extra time with 10-men as Trippier was injured and the Three Lions had used all their substitutes.

England finished fourth, losing the third-place match to Belgium. It was their joint-second best performance in a World Cup Finals, matching their finish in Italy 1990.

A year later, in the first UEFA Nations League, England won their group containing Spain and Croatia, but lost to the Netherlands in the Semi Final. However, a 6-5 win on penalties over the Swiss saw England finish third in the competition.

  • Euro 2020 – So Near But Yet So Far

The 60-year celebration of the European Championships saw England qualify comfortably and they were drawn in Group D where they topped the group after two 1-0 wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic with a 0-0 draw with Scotland.

They then defeated Germany 2-0 at Wembley in the Round of 16, followed by a 4-0 win over the Ukraine in Rome. Back at Wembley, England defeated Denmark 2-1 in extra time to reach only their second major Championship final.

The Final would see them face Italy at Wembley and England got a dream start after just 3 minutes when Luke Shaw scored, but Italy controlled the game from then on, levelling on 67 minutes before snatching the trophy with a win on penalties.

However, they foundered in the Nations League, drawing three games and losing the other three, including a 4-0 home defeat to Hungary, their worst loss on home soil since 1928. They finished bottom of their group and were relegated to League B for the next Nations League tournament.

  • World Cup 2022 – Penalties Come Back To Haunt England In Dramatic Quarter Final

After qualifying for the World Cup 2022 comfortably, England defeated Iran and then drew with the United States before defeating Wales comfortably to reach the Round of 16.

Senegal were despatched 3-0 setting up a quarter final with France. England lost the game 2-1, Harry Kane scored one penalty, but fired another over the bar late on to mean England lost out in the quarter finals of the tournament for a record seventh time.

  • Euro 2024 – Comfortable Qualification

After questioning whether he should remain in the post, Southgate was persuaded to stay by the FA and led England to comfortable qualification for the Euro 2024 finals.

Southgate’s Positives

  • Mostly Impressive Performances at World Cups in 2018, 2022 and at 2020 Euros
  • Good performance in inaugural Nations League tournament.
  • Development of a crop of young talent that includes Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and captain Harry Kane has thrived under Southgate to become England’s leading goalscorer.
  • Investment at youth levels are paying off with England’s younger teams starting to win major tournaments at youth and u21 levels.
  • Defensively, England are generally very solid.
  • Southgate has been England’s most successful manager outside of Sir Alf Ramsey.

So, with such a positive back-story, Southgate’s time as England manager can only be viewed as a success.

However, the question I would ask, is has it been successful enough? Especially in those crucial games that England lost in key tournaments.

As it is in these games, plus a couple of others, where the negatives of Southgate’s tactical decisions have been plain to see and have actively harmed England’s chances of landing a win.

Plus, there is his somewhat questionable policy for calling up players that are either not playing, or performing poorly for their clubs, while overlooking others that are playing well and regularly for other clubs, seemingly simply because Southgate values what they have given to England in the past.

Southgate’s – Negatives

  • Too many times in the most important games, England find themselves being dominated in possession – most notably in the 2018 World Cup Semi Final (v Croatia), the 2020 European Championship Final (v Italy). In both these games, England led but then played far more defensively, giving the opponents more of the ball and eventually losing the game by trying not to concede a goal, rather than by remaining a more attacking force to try to score another.
  • Southgate lacks a Plan B for England in games where his tactics aren’t working. Hungary exposed this in two games against England in the last Nations League, especially in their 4-0 win at Molineux, a game which was the nadir of Southgate’s time as England manager as his team were outplayed, outfought and outthought tactically and the England manager did not have an answer.
  • Southgate’s insistence on picking his favourites over players who deserve a chance in the England team based on performances and form is incredibly infuriating for fans and must be incredibly annoying for the players that miss out. Southgate’s ‘favourites’ as they have been labelled seem to not only get into the England squad, but start the key games. They have included players like Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford, Jordan Pickford, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier and Kalvin Phillips.
  • Southgate also seemingly has a poor relationship with a number of potential England stars. Raheem Sterling seems to have been discarded from the squad despite better form for Chelsea, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been omitted from the squad at times and criticised by Southgate publicly, despite many pundits believing he is the best full back in world football and one of the most talented players England have available. Arsenal’s Ben White has been overlooked after returning home from the 2022 World Cup Finals despite being hugely consistent and versatile for the Gunners. Jack Grealish and Phil Foden rarely start together for England and it is only recently that Southgate has included James Maddison in the squad, despite a sensational few years for Leicester and starting his Tottenham career well. Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer, two outstanding young talents this season are also seldom in contention in the squad. That surely has to change.

However, the biggest concern for me is that when England hit these crucial, tournament defining games, they continue to come up short. That despite having an incredibly talented squad blessed with attacking players.

Southgate doesn’t seem to share this view. Instead in these game, his teams try to defend their way to victory. And it hasn’t worked.

And with Southgate seemingly happier to play the likes of Maguire, Henderson, Pickford, Phillips – Instead of the likes of Alexander-Arnold, Maddison, Foden and Grealish- It is hard to see England’s fortunes changing a great deal in future tournaments.

Especially in the games against the very best. When we leave some of the world’s finest attacking talent sat on the bench and instead entrust Harry Maguire to stop Luka Modric or Kylian Mbappe.

Rather than asking Foden, Grealish, Alexander-Arnold to provide the chances for Kane, Saka, Rashford and co to score the goals needed.

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