By Callum Nixon
ENGLAND’S UEFA Nations League campaign was over before it even started.
Their 2-0 loss to Belgium last Sunday meaning that Gareth Southgate’s side will not feature in the finals of the tournament taking place in October 2021.
England fell to goals from Leicester’s Youri Tielemans and Napoli’s Dries Mertens. While Jack Grealish stole the show in what was actually a very encouraging performance for England against Belgium they still came up short. It leads to the question, Do England have an inferiority complex against the more ‘attractive’ national teams?
That was England’s best performance this autumn. Jack Grealish enhanced his own claims with another impressive display. 0-2 defeat disappointing but England put Belgium under a lot pressure. Defeat doesn’t tell whole story— Ian Dennis (@Iandennisbbc) November 15, 2020
Former England Goalkeeper Rob Green, talking on BBC Radio 5Live said: “When you come up against the top, top sides. It’s always going to be a such a tactical and difficult battle at times. We will come unstuck against these sides because teams like Belgium are that organised.”
So surely, if England needs to be more organised that responsibility falls on Gareth Southgates shoulders. Right?
Absolutely. In their last Nations League campaign, England seemed a shoe in to go all the way to the final. They certainly looked one of the top teams in qualifying. But, at the finals they only managed to score one goal over two games against Italy and Switzerland. Can it be put down to fatigue after a gruelling Premier League season or does the answer lie in Southgates team selection?
England absolutely walked their EURO 2020 qualifying campaign. Scoring 37 goals over ten games and winning nine of those games, losing one. But, time and time again we have seen England do so well in qualifying just to fall to a more attractive national team in major tournament finals.
90min‘s Ben Haines also talking on BBC Radio 5 Live said: “One of the things you have to praise Gareth Southgate for is that now he is to create a system that is both flexible and rigid enough to deal with the idea of playing more difficult sides. But, also has the capacity to allow the better players to go on and attack.”
Many fans have picked up on Southgate’s decision to play using two defensive midfielders in his set up and when playing with a back three with two defensive wing backs it turns Southgates side into almost a side with seven defenders.
Quite possibly it can be down to this that many fans were so quick to laud Jack Grealish for his superb performance against Belgium as he looked the only player likely to create anything of note for the Three Lions.
Since the 2018 World Cup in Russia, England have performed better against the ‘bigger’ national teams. Notably, beating Spain twice in their last Nations League campaign. However, Southgate will still be wanting more from his team and rightly so.
England have truly world class talent within their ranks again with the likes of, Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish. Southgate needs to find a way to incorporate these talents within a system that also is secure at the back. A task which is much easier said than done.