Matt Scrafton's Euro 2020 verdict: England's progress highlights their development under Gareth Southgate
Measured, controlled, mature and impressively convincing on the biggest stage.
No, I’m not describing another tactical masterclass from the mighty Pool, I’m of course referring to the Three Lions.
There are some striking similarities between the two sides though, it must be said.
Just like the Seasiders, each and every member of Gareth Southgate’s side appears to know their role down to a tee. Even when a player comes off the bench, they fit in seamlessly.
Irrespective of the system, whether it’s three at the back or four, and the personnel chosen – whether Jack Grealish, Phil Foden or Jadon Sancho who is preferred – England’s approach and philosophy largely remains the same.
That suggests the culture of the squad, one that has been developed and harnessed over a matter of years, not days or weeks, is absolutely spot on.
I’ve never known an England side to play with such impressive levels of tactical nous.
Normally the butt of the joke on the international scene, England have historically been viewed as a fairly basic, ‘kick and rush’ outfit.
Yet rewind back to Tuesday and it was the Germans lumping it long in a final act of desperation, while England saw out a game, one of huge significance – putting the ghost of ‘96 to bed – with relative ease having carved their foes open with two superbly-constructed goals.
As for Saturday’s comprehensive victory against Ukraine, that’s exactly what it was: comprehensive. Knockout wins don’t come as straightforward as that.
Detractors and supporters of rival nations – I’m looking at you, Scotland fans – will say: “Well, it’s only Ukraine”.
However, it wasn’t just the result that was impressive, it was the nature of it that will have sent out warning signs to the three remaining sides left in the competition.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t how England perform at major competitions – but it is under Southgate, who deserves all the credit in the world for delivering back-to-back semi-finals in major tournaments and three in as many years when you factor in the Nations League.
It’s just a hunch, but I suspect Southgate’s right-hand man Steve Holland is having a fairly significant influence on this squad.
Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence Holland is well known to Pool boss Critchley, as they worked alongside one another at Crewe Alexandra.
Notice how Southgate immediately turns to his lieutenant in the dugout as soon as a goal is scored, to discuss the team’s next steps.
Whenever a substitution needs to be made, Holland is always in deep discussion with the man in charge.
That’s not to take anything away from Southgate, by the way, but every successful manager needs the right support team behind them and it seems like Southgate has it.
Regardless of what happens this week, the history books will tell you the 50-year-old is the best boss England have had since Sir Alf Ramsey.
Such is England’s lack of success on the major stage, he doesn’t have much competition in that regard, but nevertheless, he deserves the plaudits that come his way.
Ramsey is currently unrivalled with his World Cup win and 10 tournament victories to his name but Southgate moves up to second in the list with eight.
That puts him one ahead of Sven-Goran Eriksson, while the great Sir Bobby Robson managed five.
The fact Southgate’s first thoughts during his post-match interview were regarding the players he left out – Aaron Ramsdale, Conor Coady and Ben Chilwell – speaks volumes about his humility.
Again, there isn’t much competition, but Saturday night’s win in Rome was one of England’s great knockout victories.
To have total faith and confidence in the team and to be sitting at home with half an hour left on the clock knowing we were heading through, that’s some feeling.
It’s just one I’ve never experienced as an England fan before, so it takes some getting used to.
To be heading into the semi-finals having still not conceded is another remarkable achievement.
There’s a famous saying after all that goals win you games, but the ability to keep clean sheets wins you tournaments.
Denmark on Wednesday night will be no easy task, though.
They’re a far better side than many give them credit for. They’re ranked 10th in the world and beat England at Wembley as recently as October 2020 in the Nations League, having held us to a goalless draw in the original group game in Copenhagen.
Yes, the Christian Eriksen incident has united the nation and given them extra motivation to succeed but they were already a top side before that, one that is well-drilled and well set-up – just like England.
Home advantage, both in the semis and potentially in the final, has got to be crucial though.
This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.
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