Friday 24 January 2020

Jamie Carragher: England reaping rewards of the coaching of Pep, Pochettino and Klopp

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: Tim Goode/PA Wire

Jamie Carragher

England may not win the World Cup, but English football is already winning in Russia. Of the 91 players remaining, 41 are at Premier League clubs. This is testimony to the strength of the English league. At last, the national team is benefiting as much as other nations from the power and wealth of England's top division.

The debate can continue as to whether the greatest players in the world are in England, or the best teams are at the top of the Premier League. The top Spanish teams continue to dominate Uefa competition. But there can be no argument about the depth of quality in England and the Premier League is currently blessed with the world's best coaches.

The further England progress, the more Gareth Southgate will be grateful to them. Southgate is the first to acknowledge the influence of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino on the design of his side.

England's players are confident in Southgate's change of system because it is not alien to them. What was once radical restructuring of the team to 3-5-2 now looks natural. As much as Southgate is deservedly receiving praise, the clubs must be credited for preparing players to play a more tactically fluid and technical game. They are comfortable in possession, schooled in knowing how and when to press opponents because of their work at Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, in particular.

The Premier League gets a hard time whenever England fail at major tournaments. Concerns linger as to how few English players are playing in the top division and in the Champions League, and whether enough managers are prepared to give the academy graduates a chance rather than spend big on overseas stars. There is no room for complacency on that issue. But the greatest managers of their generation ensure those English players good enough to play for England's Champions League clubs receive an education which is the envy of the rest of the world.

John Stones and Kyle Walker fit seamlessly into a three-man defence because of their work with Guardiola. Questions were asked when Walker was given a new role by Southgate, but at Manchester City the full-backs do not play as traditional full-backs.

They push up so much, and have so much freedom to move inside, they are like midfielders. Walker was always going to be ideal as a defender who is good on the ball, and has the pace to get his side out of trouble when counter-attacked. It is perfect for those games when the opposition sits deep. Naturally, he will have more defending to do against Croatia, and certainly in a final should England get that far.

No-one thought of Jordan Henderson as a holding midfielder until Klopp revised his role at Liverpool just under two years ago. Until then, it was difficult to define Henderson's game. People were looking for him to score and create more as an attacking midfielder.

Instead, Klopp identified his greatest strength is covering the yards in front of his defence, breaking up attacks and retaining possession with simple passing to more creative midfielders. It looked risky at the time, but Henderson has flourished.

Southgate has used Liverpool's midfield as a prototype, so much so if not for the injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana, it is my gut feeling they would be alongside their club captain. Harry Kane and Dele Alli thrived as a partnership under Pochettino, the duo instructed to replicate their club relationship in the international team. Kieran Trippier's advancement at Spurs has taken him to another level.

Mourinho's style of football obviously differs from that at City, Spurs and Liverpool, but he can be credited for developing players such as Jesse Lingard. It is Mourinho who revived Ashley Young as a full-back so he not only earned a call-up to the squad, but is a starter again. That looked impossible a year ago. Anyone playing for Mourinho must be mentally tough.

Southgate is willing to defer to the great coaches working with his players on a day-to-day basis. That has worked to his advantage. Since taking the job he has sought to build a good relationship with those coaches for mutual benefit.

It was frustrating that for so long the Premier League was strong and this was not reflected in international performance. Four of the last five major tournaments pursued by European clubs have been won by nations in which Guardiola was coaching.

His influence on Spain's success between 2008 and 2012 is obvious, but there were six of Guardiola's Bayern Munich players in the starting line-up for the 2014 World Cup final. A seventh, Mario Gotze, came off the bench to score the winner. Where Guardiola goes, the World Cup follows. This bodes well for England. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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