Wednesday’s friendly with Germany may have ended in defeat for Gareth Southgate’s England but there were positives to be taken from a decisive display
It started with a massive scandal and with the uncertainty that goes with the role of a caretaker manager. Since then, Gareth Southgate’s adventure as England coach has had a constant upward trajectory, and if against Germany the Three Lions found a defeat on Wednesday night in a friendly in Dortmund, the display is one that sets a positive marker for the future.
It had to happen: in Lukas Podolski’s final game with the National team, it seemed impolite not to let him win. And with the amazing goal he scored to earn Germany the victory he deserved on his farewell night. But this doesn’t cancel out what England showed for large chunks of the game: constant team movements, fluid passing and a quality on the ball that had been lacking in big games for quite a while.
It cannot just be a coincidence. Southgate has had some time now to work on his players, and the results are starting to be visible. The former Middlesbrough and Aston Villa player took over from the ashes of Sam Allardyce’s very short reign on the 27th of September, and had to cope with managing a shocked side whilst dealing with the speculation on who would become the next England manager.
Two months later, on the 30th of November, the FA made its choice: Southgate was offered a four-year contract to remain on the England bench. Another four months later, and here is England putting up a display of quality and intensity. Southgate has put his personality up front to give the team a free mind to work on their football and psychologically recover from the latest events – the scandal involving Allardyce, the shocking defeat to Iceland at the Euros, and before then being knocked out from the 2014 World Cup at the group stages – and is now moulding the team, taking out the best from the players.
England have some quality players, and most people will agree on this. The problem is the difference in their performance four their clubs compared to the national team. To get them playing as well for the Three Lions is the main task. Players such as Harry Kane, Dele Alli or Adam Lallana have buckets of talent and could lift the whole of the England squad. They just have to do it for their country.
Against Germany especially the first half showed all the potential this squad has, especially considering Kane is out injured. Southgate fielded an offensive 3-4–3, something very new for England, with Alli and Lallana supporting Jamie Vardy up front, and the debut of Michael Keane in the back three with Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling. Kyle Walker and Ryan Bertrand guaranteed the push on the wings, with Eric Dier giving cover in the middle. It was in many ways an experiment, but something Southgate can build on to go that extra step forward.
“I am not somebody that is over-positive if you have been defeated, but I have to be really pleased with the way the players have played individually and in terms of the tactical system,” he said after the 1-0 defeat, adding that what missed was the finishing.
Eventually, England will need to get that done in order to win games, but the development under Southgate is there to testify that the FA’s decision to promote the caretaker to the main job could really be the best they could make.