Gareth Southgate must show he is the man to make England winners

Where was the pressing? Where was the urgency? Where was the bravery? Gareth Southgate must find answers to show he really is the man to make England winners after Scotland stalemate

  • England were frustrated in their second Euro 2020 match against Scotland 
  • The Three Lions were held to a goalless draw by their Group D rivals at Wembley
  • Gareth Southgate’s team selection and tactics were questioned after the draw
  • Players like Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips were poor on Friday 

It is traditional that whenever England win a major trophy at a football tournament they always endure a diabolical 0-0 draw in the group stages at Wembley Stadium, when they are booed off.

Doyen football correspondent Brian Glanville wrote that England’s opening match in 1966 against Uruguay was ‘dreadful…the most arid of goalless draws … with Alf Ramsey’s own tactics and team selection curiously obtuse’.

So, Gareth Southgate is in good company after Friday night’s drab, uninspiring game against Scotland.

England were held to a goalless draw by Scotland in their second Euro 2020 match on Friday

Gareth Southgate’s starting eleven and in-game tactics were questioned after the stalemate

This narrative even has its own Jimmy Greaves/Sir Geoff Hurst sub-plot: Harry Kane is surely destined to be dropped, while Sir Dominic Calvert-Lewin will spend the rest of his life on a lucrative corporate-speaking gig reliving the goals that won Euro 2021. At least, that would be the positive spin on Friday night.

England have (all but) qualified for the last 16. In days gone by, tournament calamity meant fans were chewing their fingernails in game three of the group stages, wondering whether we might progress. As recently as 2014, England didn’t even make it to game three with a chance of qualifying.

Yet tournaments have a trajectory of their own. Unless England jolt out of their lethargy swiftly on Tuesday against the Czech Republic, they could easily end up on a downward spiral and an inevitable early elimination would beckon.

England have lots to work on but are still on course to qualify for the knockout matches


What was worrisome about Friday night was that it exposed Southgate’s Achilles heel. We know his strengths: articulate, empathetic and authoritative. He has transformed the England experience for the players, who enjoy their time with the national team like never before.

Deep down, the unspoken fear is that when it comes to the crunch in high-pressure matches, he freezes. It was true in the semi-final against Croatia, when England were 22 minutes from making a World Cup final but couldn’t cope with a tactical switch their opponents made and lost control of the game.

On Friday night, something similar happened. England were losing momentum. Scotland’s back three/back five was seemingly impenetrable. England’s midfield looked lost. Yet Southgate made like-for-like substitutions in attack. He didn’t move to change the failing full-backs, who kept running into traffic. And he couldn’t find a solution to stop Scotland playing through England, with 20-year-old Billy Gilmour the instigator.

Southgate occasionally freezes during the big moments on the touchline as England boss

Jack Grealish for Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford for Harry Kane were the kind of switches most of us can make on Championship Manager, neither innovative nor game changing. His caution is a concern.

Southgate will take the hit on his chin. That is another quality. ‘I always look at myself first and in the end when you have a result like we had against Scotland, I understand there’s going to be criticism and that’s perfectly acceptable.’

He does so to act as a lightning conductor for the team. ‘The important thing is that everyone gets behind the team and the players and they’re going to need to feel that support and to feel that warmth.  

‘This is a relatively inexperienced group, so that’s a different experience for a lot of them than they’ve every faced before. They’ve just about survived it. We want to be better and that’s what we’re going to work through in the next few days.’

The Three Lions manager insists that this crop of England stars is still rather inexperienced


Attacking issues won’t be resolved by dropping Harry Kane. Changing a light bulb doesn’t help if the electrical grid is out of power. It won’t even be resolved by playing Jack Grealish. If you review the game, most would actually recognise that Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden did much more good work than was generally acknowledged.

It would seem unlikely Southgate would punish them for showing willing, unless he wants to manage Foden’s minutes.

Kane made the point that the team have had so little preparation time that these games are playing the role a pre-tournament training camp should and Southgate said something similar.

Harry Kane is yet to get off the mark for England during his two Euro 2020 group games so far

‘A lot of those players we didn’t have for the friendlies, so the chemistry is something we didn’t have a lot of opportunity to work on. We’ve got to just keep working on that. We know there are some very good players in there, we know they can perform better than they did against Scotland and we’ve got to help them to find that level.’

But the problem with England is the system. At times, you could see how they’re meant to play: the exhilarating moment on 13 minutes when Raheem Sterling robbed Scott McTominay by closing him down, not allowing him time on the ball, was presumably part of the plan.

McTominay isn’t a natural defender so this should have been grist to the mill for England.

The England captain was marked closely against three centre-backs at Wembley on Friday

Sterling then charged in on goal, nutmegged McTominay and Mason Mount should have really scored. Scotland looked as though they were about to be schooled. But that organised, aggressive pressing never really happened again.

Kane played his best football under Mauricio Pochettino, on the front foot. Closing the opposition down is almost the best part of his game. He insists he is in shape. Either England have been told not to press opponents hard or they’re too tired to do so. Southgate dismisses the latter.

He said: ‘I’m not too sure about the consequence of the season but one of the reasons I made a couple of changes at the start was that we know we’ve got to keep people fresh.

Closing down opponents is understood to be Kane’s big strength but is not showing it so far

‘We have got a squad, we have to try to use it. It’s the emotional energy as much as the physical energy that takes it out of you. And the longer it goes without a goal… I’ve played in nights like that where there’s more tension and sometimes simple things become hard.’

But Kane will never thrive in a team playing endless, slow and safe passes. England need to rediscover their urgency.


England came into this tournament apparently with a surfeit of world-class attacking full-backs. They lost Trent Alexander-Arnold to injury, but even so, they still have five left, have used four of them and yet none has contributed significantly offensively and they have barely managed a cross between them.

This was a key point for Jose Mourinho, speaking on TalkSport: ‘I just remember [Reece] James reaching the box once, Luke Shaw trying to score [once]. But I didn’t see any cross from the any progression, any overlapping. I think they were fine, didn’t make any defensive mistake, they were cautious, they were positional but they should give a little bit more.’

England came into the tournament with a host of top-class full-backs playing at a high level

He exaggerated, but only a little. Only twice did James manage to deliver balls that led to attacking situations, swinging in a cross for Kane on 29 minutes which was ultimately offside but was at least a chance, and delivering a long ball for Mount to charge on to after 36 minutes. He also managed a shot on 55 minutes, a lone example of when his presence upfield confused Scotland. Otherwise, he merely drifted inside playing safe balls.

Shaw had one burst up the pitch on 19 minutes, to combine with Sterling and Mount to force a corner. He only then managed it again on 40 minutes and then on 74 minutes, when he burst through, combining with Mount, to shoot wide when he might have squared for Kane. That was the sum total of his attacking output. Kane, waiting for that cross, bent over, his head in hands. It was his last moment before being subbed.

Albeit in a very different system with wing-backs, Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young were key to England’s creativity at Russia 2018. England’s full-backs are now playing so deep some have concluded Southgate has told them to stay back. That made sense against Croatia but much less against Scotland. Full-backs are key components to an attacking game and England need to take off the handbrake.

Kyle Walker (left) and Kieran Trippier (right) started England’s first game but missed Scotland

Expect Kyle Walker and Trippier back on Tuesday. And expect them much further forward.


As Mourinho also pointed it, what was so good against Croatia, the combination of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice, was an over-cautious hindrance against Scotland. On Friday night, Southgate managed the tournament, not the occasion.

‘If England needed to win this match I think [Kalvin] Phillips would be out, minute 65, and England would go with a little bit more creativity,’ said Mourinho. ‘But then I think the pragmatism of the result, let’s say the fear of losing it, kept them [Phillips, Rice] on the pitch, kept a clean sheet. In the end, if they don’t read the press tomorrow and focus on “we have four points, we are going to qualify, we’re going to beat the Czech Republic”, probably it was not as bad as our feelings are…’

England used two sitting midfielders on Friday – Declan Rice (right) and Kalvin Phillips (middle)

What worked against Croatia was Phillips making aggressive runs forward. Often Foden dropped in to allow that space. Rice seemed more comfortable as a Modric destroyer — he pushed the Croatian playmaker deeper and deeper.

England’s midfield badly needed fixing on Friday. But Southgate chose security over style. ‘You do find yourself in that difficult balance where you know the crowd are urging you to go forward and abandon any sort of shape,’ he said. ‘But you can get caught out doing that as well. In the context of the game tonight and the group that would have been potentially costly.’

Again, expect changes. Jordan Henderson may well return. The bold move would be to start with the irrepressible 17-year-old, Jude Bellingham.

Jude Bellingham (left) and Jordan Henderson could be used in England’s final Group D fixture


Credit Southgate with some intelligence. The transformation of England in 2018 was down to managing the competition well, in a very Germanic unfussy way.

Remember Portugal won three points in three games in the group stages in 2016, didn’t win a game in 90 minutes and came home winners. What Southgate seemed to have brought to England in 2018 was an ability to navigate a tournament over four weeks.

Equally though, momentum can oscillate wildly on the back of one game. In 2016, a dispiriting 0-0 draw with Slovakia prefaced the eye-bulging, jaw-dropping horror show that was the 2-1 defeat to Iceland in the last 16.

All eyes, including Southgate’s, will be turning to Tuesday for the visit of Czech Republic

The hope will be that this was Southgate’s Uruguay, that tetchy group game which will be long forgotten in 51 years’ time when Harry Kane, 78, is regaling wide-eyed players, not yet born, about lifting the Henri Delauney Cup at Wembley.

That is the prize that awaits this England team if they can get close to their potential. All eyes turn to Tuesday.

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