3 Mistakes Southgate Made Against Croatia ft. Danny Rose, Jesse Lingard & More
Here Liam Andrews looks at three mistakes Gareth Southgate made during England’s World Cup defeat to Croatia on Wednesday night
Wednesday night may have ended in yet another exit for England at a major tournament, but the way this team performed at the World Cup means they leave as heroes, if not quite legends, with their heads held high, knowing they’ve brought the feelgood factor – so sorely lacking in previous years – back to the national team.
Despite a dominating first half of attacking football in which England probably should have put the game beyond the reach of Croatia, during the second forty-five minutes and the extra time that followed it, the quality, and, most importantly, the experience of the opposition shone through, and any hopes of a repeat of the penalty shootout glory against Colombia were effectively snuffed out with Mandzukic’s close range finish in the 109th minute.
While it’s easy to say this relatively young England squad was outplayed and ultimately beaten by a better team, there were three things Gareth Southgate – so deservedly praised for revitalising and humanising the national squad – could have done that, potentially, may have seen us going for gold this weekend instead of bronze.
Our midfield needed more bite
Though both Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli are hugely talented individuals, able to change a game in an instant with a moment of magic, they are not the midfield dynamos the team needed on Wednesday night. Far too many times England looked to go backwards in order to keep possession and were often overrun by Croatia’s formidable pairing of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić.
If Southgate had been willing to sacrifice some of the attacking flair Alli and Lingard provided for a more pragmatic choice of Delph, Loftus-Cheek or Dier to play alongside Jordan Henderson, it would have added some much-needed fight to our middle and freed up Kane from having to drop so deep while looking for the ball.
Sterling was dropped at the wrong time
It’s no secret Raheem Sterling has been a polarising figure at this year’s World Cup. Scintillating for Man City last season, he has struggled to replicate his club form on the national stage, painfully highlighted with poor misses against Tunisia, Panama and Sweden.
Despite this, Southgate kept faith with Sterling throughout the tournament, repeatedly naming him in his starting line-up when perhaps the likes of Marcus Rashford or Jamie Vardy deserved a chance at staking a claim in the team.
It was of little surprise then to see Sterling starting against Croatia, but this time the selection seemed justified. Sterling looked like he had a point to prove, consistently troubling the Croatian defence with his pace, chasing down lost causes and generally providing an outlet for England. He was also perfectly poised to slot in England’s second had Kane opted to pass when through on goal, but in the end the chance went begging.
It was odd then, that Southgate chose to replace Sterling with Rashford in the 74th minute. While Rashford was lively, England were not quite the same threat after the change, and with Sterling looking like he was finally going to reward the faith his manager had placed in him so far, it was disappointing to see him taken off.
Danny Rose is England’s first choice left back
As one of the oldest players in the squad, Ashley Young brought some much-needed experience to the England camp, but his constant selection at left wing back proved questionable at times.
Yes, his ability to provide great delivery was a boon considering the threat of this England team at set-pieces, but he looked leggy against Croatia, especially while defending, and it’s no coincidence their first goal came from an attack down his flank.
Danny Rose, a natural defender, was far more composed when introduced against Colombia earlier in the tournament, providing pace and intent when England needed it most and nearly scoring a late winner himself. But despite the promising performances, he was overlooked by Southgate in favour of Young time and time again, with his late appearance against Croatia coming too late to be anything more than a cameo.
There’s no denying the outstanding work Southgate has done with the team, however. Taking a squad that many had given no hope to the brink of a first World Cup final in 52 years is an incredible achievement, and he has instilled a belief and willingness in this England that is sure to reap rewards in the future.
It provides an excellent platform for this relatively young team to build upon, and though the pain of another exit may still be fresh, once the wounds have healed the nation can look back on what has been a hugely successful tournament, one that will live on in the memory of everyone who witnessed it. For once, the future looks bright England.
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