Sunday, July 21, 2024

Euro 2024: Southgate plays favourites to England’s detriment

Well, the good news for England is that they finished top of their Euro 2024 qualifying group. The flip side of that is that it was achieved with another fairly uninspired performance in a 0-0 draw with Slovenia last night.

Some won’t care, and that’s entirely fair, but the perception (or indeed reality) that Gareth Southgate isn’t getting the best out of some very talented players is the narrative that surrounds England at this tournament. Conor Gallagher came in to the side to replace Trent Alexander-Arnold, but they’d have been better playing Trent Alexander-Arnold-from-Diffrent-Strokes for all the good it did. The Chelsea man was very poor, and was replaced at half-time by Kobbie Mainoo who actually made some difference.

The big problem for England, as far as I can see it, is that the balance is all wrong up front – and I think the main issue is Harry Kane. He drops deep, gets in the way of Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden – who I think can play effectively on the left-hand side btw – and leaves his team without any kind of focal point up front. When he is up there, he’s too slow, too greedy, and the touch is so often poor – there was one moment in the second half when Bukayo Saka played a pass to him on the edge of the area and the ball just bounced away from him. It’s basic stuff.

He was lucky to start this game, in my opinion, he’s in the side on reputation rather than merit right now, and the fact he played the full 90+ last night was by any measure absurd. What must the likes of Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney be thinking watching him clump around like it’s his dad who picks the team, and they can’t even get 20 minutes off the bench?

‘Maybe Ben White was right’, is possibly one of the things they were thinking, but you must have questions when you watch Kane drop another 2/10 performance and you don’t get a chance. Not least because striker is the easiest position to make a change. Saka was taken off for Cole Palmer who did all right against a tired full-back who was already on a booking, but the idea that he was something special is fanciful, despite what sections of the media would have you believe. I watched Saka closely, for obvious reasons, and while like many of his teammates he wasn’t at his best, he was the liveliest of the front players for England until he was hauled off and Foden, who was carelessly offside in the first half which denied Saka a goal, was left on until Gareth Southgate deigned to give Anthony Gordon 1 minute at the end.

It’s no wonder that despite qualification, there is an air of frustration around the England team right now. Most fans can understand a poor performance, most fans can understand poor form even, but few can get their head around certain players who are nowhere near their best being allowed to stink the place out for the entire game without at least trying an alternative.

It was a good night for Slovenia though, the draw saw them through the knock-out rounds, after Denmark and Serbia drew 0-0 in the other game in this group. England’s next opposition is to be decided, but one possibility is the Netherlands who finished third in Group D having lost 3-2 to Austria. Ralf Rangnick’s side have probably been the surprise package of the tournament, and few would have backed them to win the group before it kicked off.

They have been impressive in all their games thus far, their organisation and work rate is so good, and yesterday’s was no exception. Clearly this is a Dutch side that is a long, long way from the best we’ve seen in the past, but take nothing away from Austria who absolutely deserved their win yesterday. They were so good that I decided I would put up with Jonathan Pearce and Danny Murphy on commentary. The former grows more and more sanctimonious with each game he does, the latter at least providing some inspiration for people who have taken too many blows to the head and still want a career in live television.

In the other game in that group, Jakub Kiwior conceded a penalty which Kylian Mbappe scored to make it 1-0. At the other end, when Poland had a penalty themselves, Robert Lewandowski looked like a right twat with his stuttering run-up when Mike Maignan saved it, but he did the same thing when a re-take was awarded and just looked like a right twat who didn’t care because he scored. France finish second, Poland – as already knew – go home.

Today we’ve got Zinchenko and Trossard in action when Belgium face Ukraine, while Slovakia play Romania. In the evening, it’s Georgia v Portugal, and Turkey play the Czech Republic with plenty to play for in that group.

Righto, that’s it for this. Our daily Euro 2024 pod will drop in a little while over on Patreon, more here tomorrow.

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