IAN LADYMAN: There’s no need for Gareth Southgate to be bold… not yet: The England boss can leave the panic stations to others as his side prepare to face the Czech Republic
Coaches can make a big impact in summer tournaments by being brave, clever and reactive. Equally, it is sometimes better to do very little.
Last Friday, Scotland’s Steve Clarke went home knowing his influence had hauled his country back into Euro 2020. Four team changes, players moved into different positions and a tweaked tactical set-up earned Clarke his point at Wembley.
On Tuesday night, back at the same venue, it is expected that England’s Gareth Southgate will steer clear of anything so dramatic and that feels right.
There is no need for Gareth Southgate to make drastic changes against Czech Republic
Southgate does not need to be so bold, not yet. England’s two performances thus far have not excited anyone but two clean sheets and four points act as Southgate’s security blanket ahead of Tuesday night’s game against the Czech Republic.
Last night’s results meant England have already qualified, and a win on Tuesday night against a team ranked 40 in the world takes them to the top of the group.
So Southgate’s unflustered take on progress so far — and now the absence of Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell (yet to kick a ball anyway) — was appropriate.
‘Who plays instead? Somebody else. We crack on,’ said Southgate. ‘It’s only been the last two games when we’ve had the same attacking three players on the pitch.
‘We’ve had to change because of the late arrivals and so some of that cohesion as a team takes time.’
Southgate reiterated his faith in Harry Kane despite the striker’s slow start to the tournament
Tuesday night is important for England. Southgate suggested on Monday that home advantage is not so important because of Wembley’s reduced capacity. But do not underestimate the desire in the England camp to win this game and ensure their next game is in London.
A second-place group finish would take England to Copenhagen and victory there would lead them to St Petersburg.
Not ideal. So England need three points on Tuesday night and if these were to arrive on the back of a couple more goals, that would be helpful, too. There is no reason why the bulk of the players selected for games one and two cannot achieve that.
It would be ridiculous to start jettisoning players and formations at this stage.
As for his selection of captain Harry Kane, subject now of firm interest from Manchester City, Southgate is getting as bored of that discussion as everybody else should be.
‘I think the only thing that is relevant is what I have said already this week,’ said Southgate. ‘He’s been our best player, our most influential player and our most important player for a long period of time.
‘Harry has consistently been our top scorer since I have been in charge. His record is phenomenal and he is a hugely important figure for us.’
Until such time as Kane shows signs of having forgotten where the goal is, that should remain the end of this particular conversation. Sadly, that is unlikely.
It will be interesting to see who replaces Mason Mount if the midfielder is not available to play
Elsewhere on Tuesday night, it would be handy to see England play with more tempo, more width and more adventure. Kane would appreciate that as much as everybody else.
Only in the first 15 minutes of the second half against Scotland did they manage to expand and it was by far the most progressive period of the game for the home team.
Since Friday’s draw there has been talk of the value or otherwise of fielding two holding midfield players.
It is an interesting debate and now that Mount is almost certainly ruled out, it will be fascinating to see who Southgate chooses as his three to play ahead of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.
Certainly, a trio of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling would be attractive but there is a range of alternatives and this is the thing about Southgate’s England. The attacking talent is there, on the field and on the bench.
Improvement on Tuesday night must come largely from within.
Scotland played with an intensity and controlled desperation last Friday simply because they had to. England do not have their backs to the wall just yet but a modest dose of that fire would not harm them at all.