Sunday, July 21, 2024

Euro 2024: Bellingham’s moment of quality saves England

Morning, welcome to a brand new week.

England are through to the quarter-finals of the Euros, but I think it’s fair to say Gareth Southgate got very, very lucky. Jude Bellingham saved his bacon with his injury time equaliser, because had that not happened, the England manager would have faced intense scrutiny about what he did, and didn’t do, with the resources at his disposal.

Having trailed since the 25th minute to Ivan Schranz’s goal, his side produced another dismal display, with big names under-performing again. The closest they came to scoring was Declan Rice’s shot which hit the post in the dying stages, and the fact Bellingham’s goal was their first shot on target tells you the story.

Honestly, I was amazed at the inaction from the bench. Cole Palmer came on, but that seemed to be primarily because Kieran Trippier – again woeful at left-back – got injured. Bukayo Saka moved to left-back for a while to allow Palmer to do very little but lose the ball time and again. He then introduced Eberechi Eze for Kobbie Mainoo with 6 minutes of normal time remaining. In the meantime, Kyle Walker and Harry Kane were lumbering about stinking the place up, and Southgate had players like Ollie Watkins, Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the bench.

Phil Foden thought he had equalised, but he was carelessly offside, the second time in this tournament that his inability to judge the offside line has cost England a goal. Yesterday’s was just so bad, he just had to stay behind the ball for a tap-in, it’s the most basic thing, and that summed up his contribution. England had good options on the bench, and the manager refused to use them.

Toney’s introduction with 3 minutes of 6 added on was weird, and although Bellingham didn’t have a great game, he’s shown he’s capable of digging in and producing late in games – ask Barcelona all about that. And so it proved. Marc Guehi flicked on a throw, Bellingham’s overhead kick was a moment of rare quality for England, and it salvaged something from an otherwise abject performance.

The second goal early in extra-time turned out to be enough, but Slovakia didn’t give up, and gave a good account of themselves. They can feel somewhat hard done by, to be that close to going through is going to sting, but Bellingham is a rare gem, a once in a couple of generations kind of player, and those are the things they can give you.

I thought his comments afterwards were quite interesting too, saying:

Playing for England should be the most proud moment of your career but often it’s quite difficult. There’s a really high intense pressure. The fans expect a lot from us regardless of what happened in recent tournaments years and years ago.

People talk a lot. You do have to take it personally a little bit. We work so hard at this game. We come in every day, we work hard to put on a performance for the fans, sometimes it doesn’t go well and sometimes it feels like there’s a bit of a pile on, it’s not nice to hear. But you can always use it and for moments like that, it’s nice to throw it back to some people.

I do understand, it’s not nice to hear/read criticism, but I’m curious as to what exactly he’s responding too. The England fans have been largely supportive during the games, and if it’s social media chatter, he should probably put his phone away. Players can use all kinds of things to motivate themselves, but that’s a precarious dynamic he’s made himself part of. I don’t think he’ll care though, which is probably part of why he can do what he does.

Declan Rice – who I thought was good for England in the context of the overall performance and the sheer imbalance of the team in general – was in protective mode of Gareth Southgate afterwards too, and got involved in a confrontation with the Slovakia manager which was quite funny. But clearly there are big issues for Southgate to work out ahead of the game against Switzerland. It feels like he’ll just do the same again though, and on the basis of what we’ve seen at this tournament, that will lead to another one of those performances which I think the Swiss can exploit far better than Slovakia could yesterday afternoon.

The late game saw Spain come from behind to beat Georgia 4-1. The gap in quality was obvious, and the most eye-catching moment came from Nico Williams who scored the goal of the game to make it 3-1 in the second half. He’s been exciting to watch, and like many of you I’m sure, I could easily picture him in red and white – but that’s easier said than done, of course.

Credit to Georgia though, they’ve been fun to watch at this tournament. I think they understood what they were capable of, and leaned into that really effectively, which is a sign of a well-coached team. Almost the anti-Southgate if you like, because what we’re seeing from England is a lot of talent that is badly-coached. And with my Arsenal hat on, seeing Rice and Saka toil for 120 minutes isn’t ideal, but they are the kinds of players a manager can count on, so let’s hope they get some rest before Saturday.

Today we have France v Belgium (Saliba and Trossard potentially in action there), before Portugal face Slovenia in the evening game. For more on yesterday’s action, we’ll have a pod on Patreon a bit later on this morning. The Arsecast Extra is being recorded tomorrow as James makes his way back from Glastonbury today.

Have a good one.

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