England’s bright start against Croatia left the nation with high hopes as Scotland came to Wembley.
But Steve Clarke’s tactical masterclass left nagging, familiar questions about England’s weaknesses.
Does Gareth Southgate react quickly enough when England are failing in a game? Are they passing for the sake of passing, with little incisive creativity to show for it? And what’s up with Harry Kane?
Gareth Southgate’s side were frustrated and did not produce enough to beat Scotland
The trouble with Harry…
With no space to play in, Scotland’s back five immaculate and with few scraps to feed off, Kane was neutered again. He is trying to drop in, much as he does for Spurs, with Phil Foden doubling as his Son Heung-min.
They got it together a couple of times, Foden breaking free and attempting his Gazza impression but was flagged offside.
Kane always plays better with an energetic press, partly because he himself excels at that. England tried to press high and early on forced mistakes – notably the time when Raheem Sterling robbed and then nutmegged Scott McTominay for Mason Mount’s chance.
Harry Kane is giving the England boss a headache with his lack of form in the first two games
But as the game progressed, their pressing was intermittent and disjointed. Against Croatia the sunshine might have been to blame but that definitely wasn’t an issue here.
Kane insisted he wasn’t undroppable and at least Southgate took him at his word and subbed him on 74 minutes.
It was the right decision. His impact was so limited. But it would be easy observe the team hierarchy rather than react to what is happening in front of you. It wasn’t quite Graham Taylor subbing Gary Lineker at Euro 92 but a good call nonetheless
The striker struggled to pick up any scraps on Friday night and looks short on confidence
But the trouble with Gareth…
Gareth Southgate is the ultimate mood music manager, extraordinarily skilled at preparing his players and has transformed the atmosphere around England. The criticism has been that he doesn’t think quickly enough on his feet in games, especially when England are struggling.
The first half presented him a problem. Steve Clarke’s tactical plan wasn’t just containing England but creating chances and troubling them as well. Key to that was Andy Robertson. Phil Foden, Kalvin Phillips and Reece James passed him around among themselves, but the wing back and Scotland’s best player often had space aplenty, with none of those players ever really containing him.
They did slightly better with Robertson they second half, but then Billy Gilmour stepped up. England’s first change – Jack Grealish for Foden – was hardly a surprise and anyone could have made it.
It seemed that tactically Steve Clarke had the better of his counterpart on the night
Taking Kane off was bolder but Marcus Rashford never got into the game and doesn’t look fresh and fit. Changing up the midfield might have made more sense. None of the trio who shone on Sunday could really get their best game going here.
The runs Kalvin Phillips made so well against Croatia were cut off by Kieran Tierney and Roberston. Mount was good in the first half but faded. Rice looked better as destroyer on Sunday than the creator he needed to be here.
Or, more imaginative still, switch the full backs, given they were clearly meant to be a key creative area. Expect changes against the Czech Republic
All that possession… so little to show for it
As on Sunday, England were extraordinarily patient in the build-up, to the point of being infuriating. Of course, credit should go to Steve Clarke and the Scotland back five and midfield who just never gave anything away.
So, England kept going side to side and never really found a way forward. In the first half Raheem Sterling and Foden were best at trying to break through Scottish lines. Foden, early on, was looking to run in behind, with balls over the top. Sterling had those characteristic darting runs inside.
But England aren’t mobbing the ball quicker enough to trouble opposition or pull them out if position. Scotland look very comfortable with the tempo England player at – and this time England couldn’t blame the heat.
On Sunday, they could argue their patience eventually led to a goal. Here, only once really, on 55 minutes, did they move the ball with 30+ passes before Kane and Sterling combined really well with speed and alacrity, but Sterling shot over.
Phil Foden tried his best to break the lines but the Scottish defence was resolute
So many full backs yet so little impact
England came into this tournament with six world-class full backs. They lost one to injury but even so, it should be a key area for creativity. In the first game, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker were clearly under instructions to sit deep.
This time Gareth Southgate was clearly happier to see his full backs much further up the pitch.
So boldly, he switched them both. In Russia he only did this once the team had qualified through the group stages.
Reece James (left) and Luke Shaw (right) played higher up the the full-backs against Croatia
Full backs being key creative players in the modern game, expected to cover more ground than anyone, they fatigue quicker. Fresh legs later on in the tournament could be vital.
The problem for England at present is none of their full backs is having much impact.
Both James and Shaw played much higher than the full backs on Sunday. Shaw impressed early on but trouble was there was precious little space to run into. James found himself turning inside passing short balls to Foden or Kalvin Phillips.
Set pieces: first half good, second half not so good
We were back to Russia 2018 and England really should have taken the lead from that first corner. A quad of Declan Rice, Tyrone, Ming, Harry Kane and John Stones give Mason Mount plenty to aim for with Raheem Sterling nipping around amongst them.
Stones rose beautifully – and then headed on to the post. Still, it was evidence the training ground routines are coming good.
The plan to hit Foden running into the near post for a flick-on didn’t work quite so well. Tried it twice in the opening minute of the second half and Scotland read it twice.
England’s plan to hit Phil Foden with near-post flick-ons failed in the second half