Gareth Southgate reveals a new trick to magic a comeback for England

Even if things weren’t going well for Gareth Southgate, there was criticism that could be leveled at him. A meticulous planner could build a page to get off to a good start, but it got lost. Southgate failed to make game-changing substitutions. Croatia and Italy might concede first against England but come back and win. Southgate lacked the instinctive brilliance to alter a match that eluded him.

When a reign seemed to stray, when six years of progress seemed to bring drift, boredom and disappointment, Southgate did something new. Don’t pick Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has cemented the valuable role of England’s fourth right-back. But still something completely different. He promised a comeback.

It was Mason Mount, a substitute, who equalized from 20 yards. Bukayo Saka, another substitute, had chosen him just as he was instrumental in creating Luke Shaw’s goal. After failing to find a net for 520 minutes of open play in the Nations League, England scored two goals in four minutes.

When Harry Kane doubled his number of penalties in the tournament, England scored three goals in 12 minutes. A bland defeat had turned into a fabulous race to catch up. Poor handling from Nick Pope and a second goal of the evening for Kai Havertz later and a cathartic win faded and was replaced by a draw, just as a terrible first half was followed by an action-packed second.

But for England, at least a 3-3 result offered the succor that a stalemate would not have brought. There was a growing sense that the Southgate side had run out of goals and ideas, that talent bored them. And suddenly they regained a sense of excitement, the prospect of potential being unleashed, albeit in a very Gareth-esque way.

Perhaps it could be attributed to a double move, to the moment Saka and Mount Phil replaced Foden and Raheem Sterling. And if Sterling, one of the great success stories of Southgate management, had delivered momentum without a finish, if Foden had shown glimpses of his class, it was remarkable that Southgate stuck to his 3-4-3 formation on every exit.

In terms of personnel, he did not rely on full attack: neither when he came on to make it 1-0 nor when Havertz led Germany brilliantly. But his back three provided the platform for Shaw to move forward. The Euro 2020 top scorer, the man who put Southgate’s England within reach of the cutlery, recalled the heights they reached under a now-ailing manager.

Certainly Shaw’s recall showed that Southgate was going down a idiosyncratic path. As unbelievable as it sometimes sounds just watching him, the left-back was one of the stronger attacking forces at Euro 2020, adding a goal to his three assists. At a time when his decisions were coming under increasing scrutiny, Southgate redoubled his beliefs. with admittedly mixed returns.

Shaw started the comeback but Harry Maguire can be a symbol of that England in good times and bad. He conceded possession, kicking Jamal Musiala when he aimed the ball and gifting Ilkay Gundogan with his penalty to open the scoring. Southgate’s beloved back three was injured three times, although a glorious goal from Havertz and individual errors from Maguire and Pop suggested the problem wasn’t systemic.

Maguire fouled Jamal Musiala to concede a penalty


But despite the keeper’s late error, Southgate ended on a smile. Like Germany, England also head to Qatar for the World Cup but they could be buoyed by the last 20 minutes. There had been driving passages and moments of nothingness when the crowd neither jeered nor cheered but sat in muffled silence. A few had left before the players left the pitch, but there were no boos. Southgate wasn’t told he didn’t know what he was doing. If this is a farewell on home soil, he came with unexpected encouragement.

A few months ago it would have been ridiculous to say that this could be his last game at Wembley. Now, half a life after his missed penalty, Gündogan’s calm finish brought an unwanted memory that the Germans rarely miss from 12 yards. But Southgate is the only England manager to win a knockout game against Germany since 1966. His managerial career has added an epic element to his England career.

Their last semi-final without Southgate came in 1990, but as this September looked like a continuation of summer for England, a time of boredom and exhaustion, it seemed as if their best tenure since Sir Alf Ramsey was reaching an unfortunate climax. And then, out of nowhere, came a whiff of optimism. Southgate learned a new trick, made an inspired move and England had three goals and just a third point in an otherwise dismal Nations League season. Gareth Southgate reveals a new trick to magic a comeback for England

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