The footballers locked of their Qatari resort rooms will likely be spending many joyful hours on their sport consoles. If we consider the World Cup as a online game, then England are about to finish Stage 1: qualifying for the knockout rounds. However they’ve developed past contemplating that an achievement.
This match comes on the optimum level within the staff’s life cycle. About half the gamers more likely to kick off Tuesday’s final group match towards Wales featured within the World Cup semi-final defeat towards Croatia in 2018; about 9 performed final 12 months’s misplaced Euro 2020 last towards Italy. Of England’s regulars right here, solely right-back Kieran Trippier, 32, has handed the age of 30. Few groups get three tournaments collectively, and the target in Qatar is obvious.
A 3rd future ending in plucky defeat gained’t fulfill anybody. England haven’t shone right here like France or Spain, however supervisor Gareth Southgate has carried out sufficient analysis to jot down a PhD on how groups win tournaments, and shining doesn’t come into it. So what do England want to succeed in Stage 5 — lifting the trophy on December 18? And for these of us who’ve witnessed their disasters from St Etienne to São Paulo, how are they more than likely to journey up right here?
With 4 factors from two video games, England will attain the knockout rounds even when they lose to Wales by three targets. Nonetheless, given English soccer historical past, deflating embarrassment is at all times an choice. To keep away from it, they need to cease the match from turning into an old-style British derby, replete with aerial contests and last-ditch tackles.
Wales — the form of facet acquainted to anybody who has watched sufficient lower-division English soccer, or certainly anybody who has seen Australia play in Qatar — would love that. England should make their superior approach rely by controlling the ball, forcing the Welsh to chase. Wales have reached the top of their cycle, which peaked within the semi-final of Euro 2016 when Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have been of their prime. Solely their singing followers have lit up Qatar. I’ve watched the Welsh towards each the US and Iran, and wrestle even to determine any attacking weapon or technique. England ought to defend close to the midway line, as typical, to maintain what stays of the as soon as nice Bale, now 33, out of capturing vary.
Within the second spherical this weekend, England will most likely encounter an unspectacular, well-organised defensive facet — both Ecuador or the Netherlands. Ecuador are unbeaten in 9 video games, and Oranje in seventeen. England’s larger particular person high quality won’t show decisive.
But each these groups, and Wales, go well with England in a technique: none seeks a lot possession. England are inclined to fare worst towards expert, possession-oriented sides that put on them down with fixed assaults: Belgium and Croatia on the final World Cup; Italy at Euro 2020. As England confirmed towards the USA on Friday, they don’t have a lot of a urgent sport that may win the ball again.
Southgate’s technique — which largely labored towards the People — is to maintain a defensive form and provides little away. It’s not fairly, however then England’s calculation is that with their aerial energy at setpieces and Harry Kane’s nostril for aim, a few possibilities needs to be sufficient.
Southgate is typically described as “loyal” to his common gamers. Extra precisely, he believes that settled groups with robust mutual on-field understanding do higher. That’s why he has constructed a “Group England”, nearly like a membership facet, and can most likely ignore strain to drop the uninspiring Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount.
Sterling has 20 targets for England — an vital metric for Southgate, who values it extra extremely than membership type — and Mount is a participant appreciated by coaches relatively than adored by followers. A coach’s son himself, he has a top quality uncommon amongst footballers: throughout a sport, he can take into consideration the collective functioning relatively than simply his personal function. (So can Kylian Mbappé, the son and nephew of Paris-region novice coaches.) Mount will proceed to shut off opponents’ passing traces, simply as Sterling will run on to flick-ons from Kane in the course of the latter’s sorties into midfield.
If England do progress, one fear will likely be how Harry Maguire — a powerful passer from the again in Qatar — will cope towards cellular forwards reminiscent of Brazil’s Raphinha, France’s Ousmane Dembelé and Germany’s Jamal Musiala (who grew up in Croydon, south London). Southgate could increase his central defence from two males to a few, including his stalwart Kyle Walker, now again from damage.
England don’t intention to rise above themselves in some heroic Nelsonian wrestle. The guess is that being their predictable Southgateian selves will likely be sufficient.