If you’re looking for an after-effect of the frustration from the Euro final defeat to Italy in July, clues are easy to find. The majority of players have taken time off prior to returning to their clubs, and as a result have experienced slow beginnings towards the 2021/2022 Premier League season.
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have not been as impressive at all this season Both have just one and two Premiership goals to their names and we’re nearing the month’s end! Phil Foden and Ben Chilwell have taken the time to get back to their squads for the first time in a while. Mason Mount has been in and removed from his Chelsea squad with injuries that are nagging. Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford through a combination of fitness, injuries and form have all contributed to the slow start Man United have suffered.
It’s not to say that none of the English players have been impressive to begin the year. It is only necessary to take a look at the plethora of riches in the right back along with Reece James and Trent Alexander-Arnold to see players who are in top performance and hoping to secure their spots within the 2022 World Cup squad. The depth of players is so impressive, it’s plausible to believe that glory at the international level is possible with this elite group of players, so long as Southgate remains focused on team harmony over forcing talented players into untested positions.
The individual struggles aren’t spilling over to the national stage, however. not beaten in qualifying for the third World Cup in a row England have easily gotten through a group with the potential to be difficult. They finished with the highest goal differential of +36 out of all European World Cup qualifiers, only conceding three goals total. This is even more impressive considering the previous and current European Champions Italy and Portugal will need to go through 2 rounds of play-offs in March to make it to the World Cup, having finished second in their respective groups.
The resilience of suffering through
Since their humiliating departure at the hands of Iceland in the knockout stage in Euro 2016 no country has displayed the same degree of improvement in the same way as England. Gareth Southgate’s appointment as manager has led to the team to a World Cup semi-final appearance in 2018, and a European Championship final in 2021 and they’ve lost only one time in qualifying for a major event in the last 12 years. This reliability and efficiency in the final phases of tournaments are something England hasn’t seen since the 1960s. The gold-era of early 2000s only made it to three quarter-finals at international tournaments. England Assistant manager Steve Holland put it most succinctly, “If we’re in the next final and the players are there, they’ll have an entirely different experience than the last one since it’s the very first. In the first isn’t quite certain. The next time could differ.”
The next time Yes. After experiencing metronomic failure throughout my time following the team’s national squad, it is only logical to think that the team’s success is result of always being close. The experience of losing in stressful situations can make England more capable of overcoming future challenges.
The most important question to Southgate will be ball retention, and the control of the midfield. In the match against Croatia during the 2018 World Cup semi-final, after scoring first, England sat back, allowed pressure to build and failed to keep the ball in play which led to two goals. The same issue reared its ugly head in the summer in the final against Italy during the Euro final despite the improvements made by the growing team between Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in the early stages of scoring. We but lost control of the ball, and Italy played with control, eventually being able to come back from behind to claim the trophy.
Southgate has a whole year to solve this issue, if it is possible in the first place. High-quality central midfielders are on the surface, and are in limited supply in the current England team. Being able to adapt to a focused approach to play when required and in addition to the strides we’ve made as a high-pressing counter attacking team will only boost the expectations of England as a serious contenders for Qatar 2022.
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