Harry Kane has spoken of England “peaking at the right time, in the knockout stages” of EURO 2020 following the 4-0 thrashing of Ukraine in the semifinals on Saturday, and the Three Lions captain could hardly pay a higher compliment to manager Gareth Southgate.
Simply having (arguably) the most talented squad of players at an international tournament is rarely enough to become champions, thus a month of masterful management was always to be required of Southgate if England were to find success at EURO 2020. Given the level of noise and expectations surrounding this England team, “success” meant nothing short of reaching the semifinals.
Thus far, Southgate has calmly and smoothly shifted through the gears as England were measured in their approach and appeared to underwhelm during the group stage (but did so without conceding a single goal in three games), revved the engine harder and louder as they took down longtime foes Germany in the quarterfinals (again, without conceding) and finally, on Saturday, smashed the gas pedal through the floorboard to score four times and — you guessed it — concede none.
Southgate cleverly switched from the 4-2-3-1 in which England began EURO 2020, instead opting for a three-/five-man backline to neutralize Germany’s influential full backs, and the plan worked a treat as he waited until the perfect moment to bring Jack Grealish off the bench and turn the game on its head. Back to the 4-2-3-1 Southgate went against Ukraine, as he (rightly) believed wingers Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho could offer the required defensive support in wide areas so as to pack the midfield and offer Kane a bit more support underneath.
Is it too much of an oversimplification to say that Southgate has simply done what was required of him, tactically, in each game thus far, when other managers might have stuck with a favored formation or system which might (or might not) get the best our of certain individuals?
Up and down the team, there’s hardly a player who hasn’t made a meaningful contribution to the England cause, and that’s all any manager can ask of his team. Even the players who haven’t played a massive part in the public eye are delighting Southgate to no end.
“The players have been fantastic. To play as well as they did in a game where there’s so much resting on it was really impressive.
“It’s a strange feeling… I’m actually thinking of the lads we didn’t get on the pitch — the likes of Conor Coady, Ben Chilwell, Sam Johnstone, Aaron Ramsdale — they are the ones that are making this team successful, because the spirit of the group is phenomenal. Whoever comes in does a job, whoever isn’t in, which is really difficult, the squad mentality is fantastic.”
“It’s lovely to send every back home out on a Saturday night, beer in hand, in the air, wherever it is. They should enjoy it, because it’s been a long year for everybody and I’m chuffed the two performances we’ve put on have brought so much enjoyment and happiness to people.”
“We’ve known that we had players that, physically, we had to look after and we’ve had to manage and we’ve been able to introduce those guys in. We know that across seven games the squad is so important, and trying to give people a breather at the right time. We learned a lot from [the 2018 World Cup]. Tonight we tried to balance players that are carrying knocks and players that were on yellow cards … all of those things are going through your mind.”
If Southgate can navigate 180 more minutes without putting a foot wrong, England will
definitely probably perhaps be crowned champions of EURO 2020.