Matt Scrafton's Euros verdict: England are dull and cautious but Gareth Southgate could be on to a winner
England have been dull as dishwater in Euro 2020 so far, but there may well be a method behind the madness.
Gareth Southgate appears to be taking inspiration from recent tournament winners in setting his side up to play in a cautious manner, with the handbrake well and truly on.
How many times have we seen the full-backs receive the ball in wide positions, look up before opting to pass backwards or sideways?
It certainly hasn’t made for entertaining affairs so far, the Three Lions scoring just two goals in their three group games.
But, while the opposition hasn’t been of the highest standard, England’s approach has proved effective to date, with three consecutive clean sheets and seven points from a possible nine to win their group.
The Scotland game was always going to be an awkward one.
In the end, it proved to be a win-win – England avoided a Wembley humbling at the hands of their closest rivals, while the Scots got to celebrate a famous 0-0 draw before their early exit…
Southgate and his right-hand man Steve Holland, someone Blackpool boss Neil Critchley knows from his time at Crewe, have done their homework and have come to the conclusion that to potentially win the tournament, you must be functional, compact and defensively sound first and foremost.
For example, cast your mind back to the last Euros in 2016, when Portugal lifted the trophy after drawing all three of their group games against the might of Hungary, Iceland and Austria.
The reigning World Cup winners France were hardly sparkling in Russia but they knew if they kept teams out at one end, they could rely on the quality of Pogba, Griezmann and Mbappe at the other.
While England’s strength is certainly in attack, going into the tournament there was concern over the back four and the centre-backs in particular.
It makes sense then, to protect the supposed weak link and play in a manner which doesn’t expose them.
If England play open, expansive football, they could well blow opposition sides away with the attacking talent they possess.
But equally, they could also leave vast open spaces for teams to expose.
Yet, for all this talk of systems, different approaches, personnel and so on, it mustn’t be forgotten that England’s record against big nations at major competitions is pitiful.
Historically, the first time we come up against a top- level side, we wilt.
Since the turn of the millennium, I can only think of the 1-0 win against Argentina in 2002 when we’ve come out on top. To me, that points to a worrying mentality.
So if we do progress, don’t be surprised if it’s via penalties.
Burying Gareth Southgate’s 1996 demons, and all that...
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