DANNY MURPHY: Southgate can stop the slump but only if he takes risks

DANNY MURPHY: England manager Gareth Southgate can stop their slump… but only if he takes risks like letting his players off the leash, changing up their formation and picking James Maddison

  • England produced another disappointing defeat against Italy on Friday
  • The 1-0 defeat means they have now failed to win any of their last five games 
  • Gareth Southgate is under huge pressure but he can still turn things around 
  • Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates

This is a pivotal moment for Gareth Southgate. Toothless performances and a lack of creativity so close to the World Cup have raised a lot of questions and caused real concern.

So, what does he do? Does he stick with what has, until recently, treated him so well and got England to a World Cup semi-final and a Euros final: a defensive structure and a pragmatic approach? Or does he twist? Let them off the leash, release the handbrake, take more risks. Here is my four-point plan to save Southgate’s England…

England manager Gareth Southgate is under mounting pressure after another dismal display 

We are fortunate to be in a group in Qatar which we should win even if we play badly. But then what happens in the knockout stages? Fall back on what we’ve done in the past and hope things fall our way, or do we look to dominate our group, embrace our attacking talent and build confidence and momentum?

If we go out with a whimper in the quarter-finals against someone half-decent, on the back of another pragmatic display, Gareth will struggle to survive. Fans will accept a hard-luck story if they feel we’re progressing, we’ve been good to watch and tried to make things happen.

I’ve been a big fan of what Gareth has done, he’s achieved more than I expected. But you can never stand still. Everything has to evolve. It is time to take that risk, to twist. Sticking now could cause problems.

Ditch three at back

Everyone knows England haven’t scored from open play in more than seven hours. A lot of that is down to us being too predictable in attack. A change of system would help.

Gareth needs to go to four at the back. Few sides win tournaments playing three at the back. It’s too cautious. Four gives you more fluidity, an extra man in midfield. It would suit Jude Bellingham or Mason Mount. It gets more people up the pitch more often. It’s also what most of the players are used to. The Man City lads play in a four, so do the Liverpool guys. Most of the top clubs do.

Kyle Walker doesn’t play in a three every week at City. Neither does Harry Maguire for United. Bellingham plays in a midfield three at Borussia Dortmund. Bukayo Saka does not play at wing-back any more for Arsenal. Gareth is creating his own square pegs.

the likes of Kyle Walker are not used to playing in a back three for their club sides 

Commit to full-backs

One of Southgate’s biggest dilemmas is that he doesn’t seem sure how to get the best out of his full-backs. He’s almost got too much choice.

Reece James is the only one playing regularly on the right in a wing-back system. All the rest are comfortable in a back-four. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Walker and Kieran Trippier all offer something different.

I was surprised not to see Ben Chilwell on the left. He knows that system, he’s got minutes this season. He changed the game for Chelsea against West Ham, scoring one and setting up another.

It’s time for Gareth to pick his full-backs and hang his hat on them. For a team that’s struggling to score, the more creative the better.

If he does, then his centre-backs need to be comfortable being isolated from time to time. Maguire looked solid against Italy but that’s where he’s struggled for United. I would like to see Fikayo Tomori given a chance against Germany.

It’s time for Southgate to pick full-backs like Ben Chilwell and hang his hat on them

Pick Maddison

Gareth can take a squad of 26 to Qatar instead of the usual 23. There must be space for James Maddison.

Even in a struggling Leicester side, no English midfielder has more goals and assists than Maddison. He has a wonderful ability to open up defences. Even if he doesn’t start games, you know he will come on and make something happen. He is unique.

He doesn’t worry about making mistakes. That is key at international level, especially at major tournaments. Too many players when they move from club to country stress about losing the ball with a risky pass. Maddison doesn’t.

It doesn’t matter that he’s not been in recent squads. It doesn’t matter he won’t play for England before the World Cup. Gareth should make an exception for Maddison.

And it also doesn’t matter if he’s had previous misdemeanours. Plenty in the squad have been given a second chance. Jack Grealish has, Phil Foden has. Raheem Sterling was left out after an incident with Joe Gomez. Harry Maguire had his issues in Greece.

This is about football. The best thing for Maddison is for England to flap in front of goal once more against Germany.


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