England fans can expect Gareth Southgate to pull the handbrake again

SAMI MOKBEL: Expect Gareth Southgate to pull the handbrake again… England are likely to proceed with caution tactically at the World Cup after gamble to attack Hungary backfired

  • Gareth Southgate admitted England’s 4-0 defeat was a chastening experience
  • Those hoping Three Lions will be changing their play style will be disappointed 
  • His comments after the game suggests he will stick to two defensive midfielders 

Those hoping England’s dismal summer will prompt a change of approach from Gareth Southgate are likely to be left disappointed.

The stigma of being a defensive coach is one the England manager is struggling to shift. There is logic to the idea that the national team would benefit from Southgate releasing the handbrake a little, although the decision to employ a more attacking style against Hungary backfired spectacularly on Tuesday night.

It remains to be seen exactly how Southgate will react to the 4-0 loss at Molineux — a humiliating result that capped a miserable 10 days as England failed to win or score a goal from open play in four Nations League fixtures.

Jude Bellingham is one man many England fans want to start regularly in midfield 

Chelsea’s Mason Mount is one of Gareth Southgate’s trusted favourites and is a hard worker 

The smart money, however, is on Southgate doubling down on his ‘safe-not-sorry’ style.

‘There is a big desire to see open play but we saw against Hungary that you have got to have the balance of a team right,’ explained Southgate. ‘You have got to get those decisions right.

‘With a club, maybe if you are at the top and you have got a long time working with the players, you can play a more expansive game.

‘But even the top teams, they are so good defensively, they are good on transition, the balance of everything is right. So the idea that we can just play lots of attacking players and rely on talent to win matches, it is not the way it is.

‘And, you know, that was a reminder to myself against Hungary in the second half that it is a gamble. You go for a gamble to try to win the game because you think that is important. But what happened can happen.’

All of which points to Southgate starting with two holding midfielders in Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in Qatar, a scenario which will frustrate many who believe the attack-minded Jude Bellingham should be in the starting XI.

It means Southgate will probably prefer Kyle Walker’s physicality and experience to Trent Alexander-Arnold — Europe’s best forward-thinking full back — on the right side of England’s defence. It may also see Mason Mount’s discipline and work ethic preferred to Jack Grealish’s maverick approach in attack.

And the reintroduction of the five-man defence that served England so well in Russia four years ago should not be discounted, even though Southgate has said he would prefer to play with a back four.

Whether a conservative approach is suitable for England remains to be seen. It will, though, further alienate a section of fans who fear Southgate’s preference for caution over penetration will ultimately cost this group of England players their shot at glory this winter.

Trent Alexander-Arnold remains second choice behind Kyle Walker at right-back 

Southgate was booed by England fans after the 4-0 Hungary hammering at Molineux

But Southgate has earned the right to be trusted. The negative narrative that the manager’s tentative approach cost the team in the World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia four years may ring true. Similarly, England’s failure to go for the jugular after taking an early lead against Italy in last summer’s Euros final may well have cost the country its first trophy since 1966.

But the fact England finished fourth in Russia in 2018 and runners-up at Euro 2020 is remarkable.

English football was in the gutter after Euro 2016 and Southgate’s work in turning this group into a team entering a World Cup with genuine hope of winning the tournament is illustrative of the strides the national team have taken under the 51-year-old.

‘We’ve raised optimism and expectation,’ said Southgate. ‘That’s understandable, because people assume there is going to be progress all the time. But it doesn’t always work that way. And we know that the competition at the top level is unbelievably high.’

England supporters have the knives out and ready if the Three Lions do not improve  

Jack Grealish has a maverick approach that is not yet fully convincing for Southgate

Those remarks will not wash with a section of fans who feel Southgate’s tactics pose the biggest barrier to England lifting the World Cup in Qatar in December.

‘I won’t be able to change the mood in the next few months, I have to accept that,’ said Southgate. ‘That will be a different experience as England manager that I haven’t had yet, but one that I was prepared for and one that I knew could happen at some point.

‘And it is probably unrealistic for it not to happen at some point. So that is the downside of international football, you are judged sometimes on a short period of time. Sometimes it can be 10 minutes that changes your life.

‘I can do nothing with the players now. They need a rest. They have got to get away and clear their heads.’

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