Sunday 9 December 2018

John Giles: England have started well but I still think one area of their team will ultimately let them down

Gareth Southgate. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA
Gareth Southgate. Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA

John Giles

THERE’S nothing better than a good start for any World Cup manager and Gareth Southgate can certainly take comfort that so far, his planning and preparation has been good.

But I still want to see more of this notion he has of packing his team with attacking players at the expense of midfield and I want to see how it survives exposure to a good team before I reach any conclusions.

My instincts tell me that England will be in trouble against bigger teams with a better balance and a better midfield.

Despite a free-scoring win over Panama, I don’t think that Southgate or his team have been properly tested yet.

After two wins against ordinary opposition, a description which is a kindness to Panama who came to pull and drag and thankfully, were punished for it by a good referee, expectations have started to rise sharply in England.

So far, Southgate has managed in a low-key way and for once, fans and the media viewed the World Cup in a pragmatic way. Nobody expected much.

Some even spoke about the next World Cup as the ultimate target which I didn’t understand myself. Now, with six points and qualification for the next phase guaranteed, nobody is talking about 2022.

Realistically, England could not have asked for a better position from the group phase.

They were blessed with one of the easier groups in the draw and their path to the quarter-final avoids all the big names whether they finish ahead of or behind Belgium.

Going into the final group game against Belgium, Southgate is in the happy position that he can rest players and I expect Roberto Martinez to do the same.

This World Cup has delivered everything an England fan could have asked for and even the English FA must be purring.

Southgate is their man and he is uniting the country behind a team of young lads who managed to arrive in Russia without featuring in a dodgy internet viral video and give every impression of putting in plenty of hard work.

That was in evidence in England’s set-pieces against Panama and in the first game against Tunisia.

I said before the tournament started that set-pieces would be the key to England’s fortunes in Russia and so it has worked out.

Harry Kane and the three big lads at the back carry a formidable presence in the penalty area and that will apply against any team England meet along the way.

No wonder Southgate has them so well drilled and I must give him praise for that. A manager must make the best of what he’s got and he has certainly done that with set plays.

To England’s credit, they’ve scored some very good goals from open play as well and Jesse Lingard has been centrally involved.

I like Lingard’s willingness to get on the ball and try to drive forward.

It’s a counter-balance to the predictability of Jordan Henderson, John Stones, Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker who are pre-programmed to pass sideways or back.

Lingard was the man to break up that pattern and he took a lot of punishment for his troubles. He must stay fit because I don’t fancy Raheem Sterling in the same role and Southgate has nobody else.

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