Maybe it’s tough to be said, but I think that it will be the last dance for Gareth Southgate at the helm of England. Qatar 2022 looks like It’s now or never for the English gaffer…One of the main questions about Southgate’s regime is about his playing-style. His England side was labelled as too pragmatic. What is your opinion about this criticism? Personally, I think that this attitude cost them the Euro final against Italy in 2021.
I think the criticism is valid. England have been in positions under Gareth Southgate where playing it safe has cost us in situations. However, this pragmatism was also the main reason we have succeeded so much under him. Many criticized his decision to play a 3-4-3 in the 2018 World Cup and to play two defensive midfielders at Euro 2020. However, these choices ultimately got us further in the respective competitions than anybody could have predicted.
Another big question is about the formation. Southgate insisted on a three-men backline with 3-4-3 as his preferred formation. Do you think this is the best way to exploit all the talent this squad has?
The current squad is crying out for a more open and fluid system. However, in a competition where every game, goal and shot matters, a 3-4-3 formation has proven to be most effective for England. Whilst this might shoot us in the foot this time around, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this system take us far in the World Cup, especially with the likes of Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden, who can play multiple positions, all in the team.
That said, England often struggled to maintain ball possession…in the pivotal games against Croatia (2018) and Italy (2021) they lost mainly because they gave up possession. What can you tell us about the atmosphere surrounding England on the eve of this World Cup?
The atmosphere is one of mixed emotions. Many supporters believe that we have a good chance of going all the way and winning the World Cup. However, fans who have watched us more closely and are critics are Southgate believe we could crash out of the competition as early as the group stages. Results will certainly change the atmosphere. And if it’s anything like the last two competitions, we will see supporters quickly turn from pessimistic to optimistic.
Coming to the starting lineup: there is a main question about the right wide-back spot. Trent Alexander-Arnold is not Southgate’s favorite, due to his defensive weaknesses. Who will start over there?
If fit, Kyle Walker will be the starting right-back. He’s been arguably the best and most consistent player in the position in the Premier League for the last four seasons. However, my guess would be that Kieran Trippier starts if Walker is still unfit, with Trent Alexander-Arnold a wildcard option if we’re against a team where we know we can defend attacks.
Another main topic is the goalkeeper. Who will be the no.1 and who should be in your opinion?
The no. 1 goalkeeper will be Jordan Pickford, as he has started the last two major competitions and excelled in both tournaments. Even though I am an Arsenal supporter and would love to see Aaron Ramsdale play, I believe Pickford is the safest option to start between the sticks. There’s something about playing big games for England that takes his performances to a whole new level.
Still at the back: doubts have been raised with Southgate leaving Tomori at home. The England gaffer still counts on Maguire, who’s having a poor season at Manchester United. The whole backline seems to be in a poor form. What is your opinion about this?
Southgate’s decision to drop Fikayo Tomori from the squad and not even call up in-form defenders such as Chris Smalling or Dan Burn was questionable, to say the least. Even with Harry Maguire performing poorly in our last slate of international fixtures against Italy and Germany, the decision to once again call him up, and likely start him in our opener against Iran, could be a decision that costs Southgate his job if it doesn’t work out.
Going up, the Three Lions have a lot of talent at their disposal with players such as Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish e Mason Mount…who will start around Harry Kane?
If history is anything to go by, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden will be the ones to start alongside Harry Kane. However, there could be a chance that Bukayo Saka starts over Sterling given that the Arsenal winger is in sensational form and he was a key reason behind England making the final at Euro 2020.
Which role do you think James Maddison and Callum Wilson will play in this tournament?
James Maddison’s style of play means we will likely see him come on as a substitute late in games to see out a result or to even turn a draw into a win. His attacking output and his specialist as a dead-ball expert make him a more optimal player to bring on late in the game than say a Jordan Henderson. As for Callum Wilson, it wouldn’t be too surprising if we didn’t see him at all in the competition given how physically fit Kane is and how Southgate likes to keep him on the pitch for the entire match.
Who should start in the middle of the park as starting holding midfielders?
Euro 2020 saw Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips start as holding midfielders to brilliant effect. However, this tournament I would expect Rice to play as a sole holding midfielder with Jude Bellingham playing a more box-to-box role with Mason Mount or even the aforementioned Foden dropping in deep.
What is your prediction about England?
I am confident that England can go far in this World Cup. Whilst recent results have been poor and some of Southgate’s selections have been odd, he has been the most successful England manager in my lifetime. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we once again made it as far as the semi-finals, where I fear we will again fall short.
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