Southgate Assesses England’s Year: ‘We Created Dramas for Ourselves’

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Gareth Southgate has admitted to EnglandFootball.org that his side “shouldn’t have been playing in September,” and that throughout the autumn, the players “created dramas” for themselves.

Speaking to the press after the Three Lions’ big win over Iceland, he said he won’t just spend the Christmas break evaluating the November international break. “I think we will look at the whole autumn,” he began. “We feel we’ve made a lot of progress — ten debuts. September: really, really complicated. We shouldn’t have been playing in September, and that really got everything off to a bit of a negative footing, because the players weren’t fit, they weren’t sharp. We had to think about who could be on the pitch for however many minutes — really complicated.”

“The next two months, I think we improved by working with the players. It’s been fabulous for us to have that coaching time, and time to work with the team. I feel that they’ve improved.”

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On England’s displays, he wasn’t discouraged by the more disappointing results. “Ironically, our best two performances — certainly, the 30 minutes against Denmark with 11 [players on the pitch], and the game in Belgium — ended in two defeats. So, we’ve been very, very close to achieving the objective.”

Some considerable criticism has been directed towards the England manager over a so-far unsuccessful transition from the 4-3-3 system to a return to three-at-the-back, under 3-4-3. Southgate had explained ahead of the Republic of Ireland victory why he won’t be switching back anytime soon.

“We should always be open-minded to tactical change, and we’ve always done that over the four years. We’ve played various different systems that we think suit the players as best we can. There is also benefit to working with the system and improving it — reviewing it and finding out the nuances of it. We saw that in the last four matches how we were able to progress our attacking patterns. You don’t have long to work with the team, and I think the best teams — normally teams that win leagues, that win tournaments — have a set way of playing that everybody understands and everybody knows. I think flexibility can be good. We’ve done that at the right times — we must always have an open mind because our best players who you want to get on the pitch can change. Form and progress can change who our best players are, so we’ll always have an open mind to that, for certain.”

Looking back across just three months and eight games’ worth of action in a disrupted year, the 50-year-old was equally philosophical. “We’ve got to recognise there’s lessons we’ve got to learn from this period,” he admitted to EnglandFootball.org. “We created dramas for ourselves on and off the pitch, which made life more complicated. We’ve been nowhere near availability of all our players, and we’ve got to have a look at why that’s been. So, that is the balance, really.”

The England boss ended on a much more positive note. “I think we’ve definitely improved. I think the players have — the longer it’s gone on — connected more. We were ten months without any football, so at international level that’s a huge period. What’s pleased us in particular is that having lost almost half the squad from Russia, we’re now seeing some depth coming through, and we’ve been able to give the England supporters a view of what the longer-term future will be. I think we’ve been right to invest in those players, because some of them are going to be ready now, some of them are still developing, they’re hugely exciting, but I think we’ve been right to try to invest time in them.”

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But time is of the essence ahead of the rescheduled Euro 2020. Of the essence both in terms of how ready England will be to truly compete with the best, and in terms of whether fans will be allowed to even attend games.

Today (Monday 30 November) marks the end of the original four-year contract given to Southgate once he became permanent England manager. Although it’s since been extended until the 2022 World Cup, Southgate must first ensure England live up to their status as one of the favourites to win next summer’s Euros.

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