A draw in Slovakia in Gareth Southgate’s second game in charge as England’s caretaker manager highlighted a disappointing evening for the Three Lions.
A sluggish display in Ljubljana meant England were arguably lucky to escape with a point after Southgate’s side allowed the home side a number of gilt edge chances.
Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson gifted the host’s two great opportunities only for Joe Hart to deny them. Hart would make a number of phenomenal saves and the fact the England number one was named Man of the Match says it all.
Despite winning at Wembley on Saturday evening England were once again lacklustre and failed to make a real impact in front of over 80,000, where a solid first half performance was followed up with a half that lacked tempo, intensity and it seemed to continue into Tuesday night.
The Southgate verdict
So two games in with four points on the board and with England sitting at the top of their group, two points clear of Lithuania and Slovenia, what did we learn in the past week under Southgate?
The Rooney omission raised eyebrows but after Saturday’s display it was necessary especially with the scrutiny the England captain is under. A number of manager have shied away from making the decision, with club manager Jose Mourinho waiting until the matter became one of urgency before acting, so the fact Southgate was so quick to act reflects favourably, showing that he can deal with the big name players.
Southgate suggested it was for ‘tactical reasons’ although judging how Rooney’s performances was looked upon after, it seems there was a bit more to it than that.
There was a chance the situation could have become an issue, however the way the two handled it in the pre match press conference ahead of the Slovenia tie signifies that Southgate can work the media, a skill that is key to succeeding in the role, as well as having a good rapport with the players.
Playing at home you can understand the frustration as teams tend to sit off, play deep and soak up the pressure. Away from home it’s a different story with sides having the onus to take the game to the visitors, meaning it should allow space for the attacking players to exploit the space, that wasn’t the case on Tuesday.
The tempo both home and away must be altered if they are to have any success in major tournaments. For long periods against Slovenia it was one paced with plenty of side to side passing, meaning the hosts could set up and be better organised when England finally played the ball forward in an attempt to attack.
The England senior side are screaming for a midfielder with invention, creativity and an eye for a forward pass, despite having poor evenings Jesse Lingard and Deli Alli both found clever pockets of space but Henderson and Dier struggled to find the pass into those areas which could’ve opened up the defence.
It’s arguably a position made for Jack Wilshere, who when fit is a player who has the ability to find those gaps, but out in the wilderness for both club and country will he make it back and more importantly will he be able to stay fit long enough to have a real impact?
On the whole not much has changed, still England flatter to deceive with a slow tempo, shaky defending and a lack of cohesion from back to front but what could we have expected in just a week’s training and two games?
Southgate was employed to steady the ship, keep the national side out of the spotlight and concentrate on getting results. To see sudden changes so instantly would’ve been a near on impossible job. For us to witness a Gareth Southgate side with his ethos and methods, it will take more than a week to implement.