Euro 2024

England v Switzerland Reaction: Semis somehow for Southgate's great dividers

Gareth Southgate, England
Southgate sings with the travelling fans

Ste Tudor recovers from an extremely tense 120 mins and penalties and tries to make sense of mixed emotions...

  • Form of front three must improve

  • Saka fancied to torment the Dutch

  • England's rearguard can take them far

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    Before we get to the hows, whys and what-on-earths, an achievement must be acknowledged. England are through to their third major tournament semi-final in the Gareth Southgate era.

    That in isolation is more than enough cause for celebration, while a healthy dose of excitement is warranted too.

    At the expense of an unsurprisingly organised Switzerland, a perfectly executed penalty shoot-out means that the Three Lions are conceivably just 180 minutes away from ending over half a century of international hurt.

    Imminent as well though - one way or the other - is an end to a fortnight's worth of angst, frustration, even exasperation as England toil and under-perform and once again in Dusseldorf such flaws were in evidence.

    Key individuals were anonymous, popping up occasionally with a nice, cushioned pass to remind everyone of their existence. Kieran Trippier on the left continues to make England ill-balanced, even in a wing-back role. The pass map of the 90 minutes showed the ball routinely shoveled to the right, and this makes Southgate's side predictable.

    Lack of movement off the ball remains an issue. A big one. One that, for whatever reason, rarely comes up in conversation.

    But there were positives too. The passing was sharper. The press was better. A change to three at the back - four out of possession - afforded greater structure overall.

    And, trumping all of the above, England are through.

    All of which brings mixed feelings. It sort of feels like tripping up in embarrassing fashion but spying a twenty pound note fluttering beneath a hedgerow.

    100 and nearly out

    Southgate's 100th game in charge initially looked like it was going to be one of his better ones, the kind usually reserved for minnows in qualifying.

    England began with real intent and purpose, adjusting well to their change of system, Half-chances were created. Switzerland were placed on the back foot from the off.

    Twenty minutes in however and an annoying norm was reverted to. It began to take an age for the ball to be shifted from Stones to front. Caution crept in and got itself comfy. Between Harry Kane's extra-time winner vs Slovakia and Bukayo Saka's 80th minute equalizer here take a guess as to how many shots on target England managed.

    If you guessed one it was one too many.

    For the second game running, England looked considerably better and brighter when desperation took hold and a flood of substitutions brought chaos to Southgate's carefully crafted plan.

    There can be no more damning indictment of how bad his planning is than that.

    The England manager has already conceded that he is likely to leave his position post-Euros and even if his team continue to fail upwards right through to Berlin his time appears to be up.

    The next England manager market offers up all manner of intriguing possibilities but so many can be discounted for various obvious reasons. Graham Potter meanwhile ticks all of the boxes, a conservative choice for a conservative FA.

    Three caged lions

    The change of formation was supposed to better delineate the positions of Kane, Bellingham and Foden. To untether the latter from the left flank. To stop England's record goal-scorer and a 21-year-old tipped as a future Ballon d'Or winner from occupying the same space.

    And in that regard at least, it worked. All three had room to manoeuvre.

    Their individual displays, however, once again left a lot to be desired and that's a worry with a decent Holland collective awaiting in Dortmund.

    Foden floated around, threatening to threaten, but ultimately took on no attempts on goal and lost possession on 19 occasions. There are early calls for the Manchester City schemer to be dropped for the semis.

    Bellingham impressed in periods, especially in the first half, but generally flattered to deceive.

    kane swiss.jpg

    Most concerningly, Kane again flopped and though it feels almost sacrilegious to criticize a forward who bagged 44 goals last term for his movement inside the box, here we are. On multiple occasions the ball was pinged across to nobody with the striker loitering with scant intent several yards behind it.

    In the first half, he managed just nine touches of the ball. In the second he looked leggy and ineffective.

    Tipped by many as a Golden Boot contender that feat seems beyond him based on current output. Looking elsewhere, Cody Gakpo is a more sensible option.

    Brilliant Bukayo

    This was the performance Bukayo Saka has promised in patches in previous contests. That he put it together while reimagined as a wing-back is to his enormous credit.

    In the first period in particular the Arsenal flyer had his counterpart Michel Aebischer on toast, quarrying the ball to the by-line several times over and punching across dangerous low deliveries.

    Saka completed all four of his dribble attempts and accrued two key passes. On another day, in a better designed team, he would have a couple of assists to his name.

    This bodes extremely well for Wednesday evening, with Southgate's back-room staff surely identifying how to make better use of such service. It's something very easily remedied. Alternatively, Saka may take matters into his own hand as he did this evening.

    Back to the top

    If England are too blunt and unadventurous going forward there is thankfully the pay-off of solidity at the back.
    Worries early in the tournament about vast spaces left unattended on the edge of their box have been rectified and all told, John Stones and co have conceded a goal every 210 minutes to this juncture.

    Against Switzerland, the Three Lions restricted their opponents to an xG of 0.08 in the first half, that figure rising thereafter when the game began to open up. Still, their goal aside, Ezri Konsa shackled Breel Embolo well while the in-form pair of Fabian Rieder and Ruben Vargas were largely nullified.

    Let's not forget either, that Marc Guehi and Luke Shaw are both available for midweek.

    Teams have won major competitions before from being blessed with a miserly back-line. England's isn't miserly but it may be mean enough.

    Now read more Euro 2024 tips and previews here

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