Gareth Southgate has rejected the argument that England are too defensive a side, and likened their structure to Chelsea and Liverpool.
The Euro 2020 final naturally dominated much of the discussion in the build-up to the restart of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, as well as the potential reasons for ultimately falling short. It was put to Southgate that England remain too cautious – especially given the talent in the squad – but he insisted their approach is in keeping with the top level of club football, and that the team plays “good football”.
“I’m always looking at Chelsea who are the Champions League winners who play three attacking players,” Southgate began. “Liverpool play three attacking players normally. So what is required to win football matches at the very highest level? Most teams will get four in if they played two wide players, a 10 and a nine, or three forwards and an attacking eight.
“I don’t see too many teams in world football who win things played with five attacking players who have no tactical discipline or who have no balance to the team, so of course I understand people want to see exciting players. I get that. I think our goalscoring record is pretty strong compared to other nations.
“The teams that have won tournaments in the past were averaging 12 goals in those tournaments. We had 11, Italy got 13. We weren’t far away on that. I think we play good football. I think we build the game. We retain possession of the ball. We need to do that better in the biggest matches when we are pressed intensely, without a doubt. But we can’t get every attacking player on the pitch and some of them still have a long way to go to being the finished article.
“We have got some big players who have got us to a semi-final and a final, who have proved themselves in the biggest games on the biggest stage. We’ve got lots of guys with good reputations who haven’t as yet necessarily won things with their clubs and who still have a lot to prove. That’s going to be interesting to watch all those journeys this year, with us and with their clubs.”
Harry Maguire meanwhile argued that the perspective would have been very different had England not simply conceded from a set-piece, that bounced fortuitously for Italy’s Leo Bonucci.
“If you analyse the second half, yeah, we gave away a bit too much possession, a little bit too much pressure, but they didn’t create a clear-cut chance. We conceded a set-play, which has bounced around the box three or four times, and it’s fell to their player, this is the finest of margins. This is what you need to win these big trophies, for me of course, we could have been a little bit braver but in the game I never felt they were going to score, I never felt under pressure in terms of the amount of chances, I think they had a couple of shots from outside the box, and then to concede obviously a set-play, a corner, where it’s ricocheted about three or four times is really unfortunate.
“If we’d have held out and won the game 1-0 everyone would have been sat there saying we managed to set the second half brilliantly, it’s fine margins, like I say, and it’s things we’ve got to learn from but of course, when I look back now, maybe we could have punished them a little bit more on the counter-attack. I think that was a big part of the second half, when we did manage to get into promising positions we didn’t hurt them enough, we didn’t create enough on our behalf so, yeah, we’re always looking to improve, always looking to get better and we’ll learn from the experience.”
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