Gareth Southgate and England were among the most talked about teams heading into the Euros, and they remain the focus of the pundits as the group stage nears its end. While the initial conversation was centred around them being contenders, currently there are questions around their decisions.
Especially the obsession with caution and a penchant for leaving the most creative players on the bench, or even out of the squad.
After a disappointing goalless draw against Scotland, Southgate’s main task is to add more creativity in a stale line-up. However, a positive COVID-19 test for Scotland’s Billy Gilmour has put a spanner in the works as England’s midfielder Mason Mount along with defender Ben Chilwell have to isolate after post-match tunnel conversations with their clubmate.
England, with a plethora of attacking options at their disposal, have had only 3 shots on target in 2 games and scored 1.
Their most creative attacker Jadon Sancho has been warming the benches at Wembley while captain Harry Kane, whose team this was meant to be, has hardly touched the ball in the opening two games.
So far, Kane has played 156 minutes, had 6 touches in the opposition's penalty area, 3 shots (none on target) and 2 substitutions – definitely not the kind of thing you want to read about your chief goal scorer during a major tournament.
Thankfully for England, they haven’t conceded yet due to their cautious approach but desperately need to turn up the intensity by a few notches at the other end of the field.
When Will England Let Go of the Shackles?
Controlled displays have been the theme with Southgate in recent games and while there isn’t a need to panic just yet, it would benefit England if their attackers were given the freedom to do their thing.
Marcus Rashford, Sancho, Phil Foden, Kane, Jack Grealish, Raheem Sterling, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Bukayo Saka – while the last two in the list are fairly new to the international scene the rest are seasoned campaigners and would more often than worry defenders.
Against Czech Republic, a win takes England to the top of the group, they’re currently second, but the manner in which they progress will dominate the mood of the camp.
If England is to live up to their billing of contenders for the tournament, at some point the attacking riches must be put to use as they hope to fly around the continent and return to Wembley for the final week.
Do England Need Two Holding Midfielders?
While against Croatia, the ploy of using Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips together worked well, it was the reason England found it tough to go through gears against a well drilled Scotland. So slow and ponderous were England, that even Southgate was quite displeased about their play against the Scots.
Will that lead be the catalyst for change against Czech Republic, who have in their ranks an in-form Patrik Schick?
It is highly unlikely that Southgate will junk his trusted method of working due to the noise around the camp, but is it possible that the more influential Grealish and the dynamic Jude Bellingham get a look in for their third group game?
What About Harry Kane?
After a fantastic domestic season with Tottenham where he scored 23 goals and registering 14 assists in 35 Premier League games, Kane has cut a frustrated figure in the England shirt. So much so that when asked about any planned tributes for former teammate Christian Eriksen,
Kane according to ESPN replied, "I'd have to score a goal first before I think of anything like that.”
While Kane has struggled and scored only 2 goals in his last 11 games for England, it is the lack of service for him that is the bigger worry. Staying out of the game and suddenly doing enough to decide the contest isn’t a theme Kane is alien to, how often has that happened in a Spurs shirt for him.
If England want to go deep into the tournament, they need Kane to fire and for that to happen they need to provide him with the service, which in turn can only happen with a change in approach.
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