After a solid opening performance against Croatia, Gareth Southgate’s England side stuttered to a boring 0-0 draw against Scotland.
In his time as England manager, Southgate has been a very cautious manager – setting his teams up to “not lose” rather than “win”.
Now whilst this cautious mind set can lead to going far in tournaments, even winning; you also need your team to create the chances needed to win a game. And against Scotland whilst England never looked like conceding they also never looked lie scoring.
2 defensive midfielders against a Croatia, France or Germany is sensible. Against Scotland it was too negative.
So on to Czech Republic in the last game of the group stages.
England go into tonight’s game behind the Czech’s on goal difference. And with the way the draw has fallen, it is a place England might not be unhappy at finishing.
Win the group and England will face the runner up of group F – France, Germany or Portugal.
Finishing 2nd would mean England either face Sweden, Slovakia or Spain.
It would therefore not be a surprise if Southgate continues with 2 defensive midfielders tonight and attempts to engineer another bore draw rather than beat the Czechs.
Southgate will probably continue with Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips throughout the competition – opting for that solid middle.
What Southgate needs to sort out, starting with the Czech game, is the front 4.
In the first 2 games, the front 4 have been less than impressive.
Harry Kane looks well off the pace, but those behind him have not exactly created many chances for him.
It is all well and good having the solid base that Southgate has created, but you then need to ensure the top end of the pitch is working for when England has the ball.
Kane will not get dropped. That is certain.
So it is the 3 behind Kane that needs looking at.
It is time Southgate took the plunge and went for Jadon Sancho on the left wing.
The youngster has been sensational out in Germany for the last couple of years and adds pace and directness to that front line.
He should mirror the pace on the right hand side with similar on the left – either Raheem Sterling or Marcus Rashford. It is a toss of the coin between the two and Sterling having started the first two games, you would maybe go for Rashford tonight.
That leaves just one of Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish to start.
Foden has had a couple of poor games in an England shirt – although this is mainly due to him being stuck out on the right.
Mason Mount meanwhile has been the central 10, but has created little. Whilst Grealish has sat patiently on the bench playing just 30 minutes against Scotland.
In that 30 minutes he did little of note. But neither did the other two.
I would be tempted to start Foden centrally, with Mount and Grealish dropping to the bench.
My reasoning behind this is impact off the bench.
If we are chasing a game and need to make us more attacking, Mount for Phillips should be one of the first subs.
Mount is more than capable playing deeper and would add the extra forward emphasis when chasing a game.
Likewise Grealish off the bench in extra time could become a huge weapon for England – the way he picks up pockets of space and drives into the box could be crucial against defenders who have already faced 90 minutes.
So my XI would be:
And then as the game (and further games in the tournament) goes on, your substitutions become Sterling for Sancho or Rashford, Mount for Phillips and Grealish for Foden.
With 5 substitutions available, it would also allow England to bring on Dominic Calvert-Lewin for Kane if need be, and keeping the final one to go more defensive (Jordan Henderson?) if England get back into the game or take the lead during extra time.
Expect another bore draw tonight.