In recent times, England have been a side that has been lacking in creativity in the middle of the park, as they have fallen short of their top four hopes. To rectify the situation, they have been making a few changes, with a new centre-back and a new striker joining the ranks. But, with a lack of quality players in the middle of the park, is it a case of too many cooks spoiling a potential England revolution?
The manager’s midfield has been the subject of much debate since the tournament started. Many felt that the lack of a defensive midfielder was a major problem, while others pointed out that Raheem Sterling lacked the creative spark that hisRaheem Sterling’s “brilliant” performances against Germany and Brazil had suggested. And then of course there was the issue of Dele Alli, who was widely praised after scoring a dramatic winner against France but has returned to his old self in the knockout stages.
The World Cup in Qatar in 2022 is shaping up to be a fascinating tournament, and one of the big questions is whether Gareth Southgate’s England side can beat the best sides in the world, given the lack of strength in depth in his squad.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Gareth Southgate may only be looking for minor adjustments to transform England from Euro 2020 finalists to World Cup champions, but the greatest problem he faces is central midfield. Even though England had to wait until the last 20 minutes of the game to convert their dominance into a 4-0 victory against Andorra, the outcome was never in question. As a result, Southgate has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try out new ideas that might help England win in Qatar next year.
– England thrash Andorra, with Lingard scoring twice.
As England’s central midfield partnership, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice enjoyed a fantastic European Championships. Supporters selected the former England Player of the Year last week for overcoming his lack of experience to excel in the summer’s greatest tournament. However, as time passes and a more considered view of England’s failure to end their 55-year wait for a major trophy emerges, it is England’s reluctance to press home their early advantage against Italy, as well as their gradual loss of midfield control, that lingers in the memory as much as yet another penalty shoot-out heartbreak.
Southgate’s effort to remedy that over the following 14 months started with a move to a 4-3-3 system, with Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold playing as a No.8 alongside 18-year-old Jude Bellingham, a more open formation that many observers hope he’d employ more often.
Andorra is presently rated 156th out of 210 nations in FIFA’s global rankings (for comparison, England is ranked fourth), and their goal was clear: defend deep and keep the score as low as possible. As a result, England knew they would command the bulk of possession, with an incredible 88 percent at the conclusion of the game, and the task became demonstrating quick thinking and creative passing to break their opponents out of a strict 5-4-1 form.
With his seventh cap, Bellingham outshone Alexander-Arnold in that respect, looking extremely comfortable and smooth on the ball, albeit against little resistance.
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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8TH • Belarus takes on Belgium (2:35 p.m. ET) • Sweden vs. Greece (2:35 p.m. ET) • Germany against Iceland (2:35 p.m. ET) • Lithuania vs. Italy (2:35 p.m. ET) • Spain vs. Kosovo (2:35 p.m. ET) • England against Poland (2:55 p.m. ET)
Bukayo Saka provided the breakthrough 18 minutes in, making advances down the left before putting up a cross that Marc Vales could only head straight to Jesse Lingard, who was enthusiastically cheered before kick-off as a show of solidarity for his missed penalty against Italy. With just four minutes of competitive play under his belt this season, the Manchester United winger scuffed his left-footed effort from within the area, but it still managed to slip past Andorra goalkeeper Josep Gomes’ left-hand post.
England had possession of the ball, but the Andorran defense never matched the Alamo’s. The late flurry occurred after the visitors had fatigued and Southgate added Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, and Mason Mount just after the hour mark, and England passed too slowly or without enough penetration. Alexander-Arnold had been moved to right back at that point, with Reece James filling in as a holding midfielder with limited success. Despite his young years, Bellingham continues to seem like the most probable option to give England with the midfield energy they need.
After Christian Garcia bundled Mount over in the area, Kane scored his 40th international goal from the penalty spot, putting him joint-fifth on England’s all-time record. Lingard, the last player to try his hand at No.8 as the game progressed, added a third with a curling effort that Gomes should have saved, before Saka headed home a fourth on his 20th birthday; it was perhaps cathartic that his goal came on his 20th birthday, and at the same end as his penalty heartbreak against Italy.
England waited until the last minute to add to their victory against Andorra, but manager Gareth Southgate must find out how to get more out of his midfield and make the most of his offensive alternatives. Getty Images/Marc Atkins
It was, however, far from England’s finest. On his debut, Patrick Bamford was virtually devoid of service, ultimately being replaced by Kane, and the hosts managed just six attempts on target, a modest result under the circumstances, but Lingard and Saka were among those to emerge with credit.
Southgate denies that his squad is too cautious, but there is often a worrisome gap between the individual quality at his disposal and the collective offensive danger they offer.
The last time England faced Andorra was in June 2009, when they won 6-0 in a World Cup qualifying match. Many of England’s heavyweights, including Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Wayne Rooney, were in Fabio Capello’s starting line-up that day; six of the starting line-up would go on to play in England’s World Cup opening against the USMNT at the finals a year later.
Only one player, Kieron Trippier, began the Euro 2020 final 56 days ago, and Southgate made 11 changes from the squad that defeated Hungary on Wednesday.
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As much as England has traditionally dominated European minnows like this, they have always depended on their finest players to maintain it that way. However, Southgate is endowed with such wealth that his most famous players either made short cameos or sat this one out entirely.
The 67,171-strong audience seemed unconcerned as well. With the weather becoming unusually warm and England’s unofficial tournament song, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” energizing the crowd before kick-off, many in attendance were clinging to the summer mood.
Southgate, on the other hand, must look forward. The major issue is whether he can combine the defensive tenacity that helped them reach the Euro final with more offensive energy to push their advantage in tight games, especially when they are leading.
There isn’t a clear solution, despite Southgate’s wealth of skill. Although Bellingham is the favorite, England’s midfield is still a work of progress.
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