If this was Gareth Southgate refusing to compromise, then what are the alibis? what are the excuses This is no longer summer, nor “just the Nations League”. It’s not even the result of the continued failure of the English football team to win in this country since 1961, as this wasn’t even a particularly strong Italian football team.
It doesn’t look like a strong England anymore.
And that’s why it’s a big problem now. There’s more going on here than a bad run at the wrong time.
The Southgate side look old and disjointed just as they arrive at a tournament that the Football Association had long envisioned as the climax of an era.
It could well prove to be the low point of Southgate’s time. That will certainly be the discussion after that dreary 1-0 defeat against Italy, which brings relegation to the Nations League.
England simply had nothing like the skill or directness of Giacomo Raspadori’s winner.
They had very little of anything other than a lot of concerns that Southgate would be trying to figure it out with just one game left before the World Cup.
It was more of a step backwards, symbolized by the constant use of set pieces and the use of a back three that only exudes caution.
The team just didn’t seem to work.
This was most evident in general play.
The way Italy move meant it was a game full of transitions, but that didn’t exactly mean it was an open game most of the time. Much of the problem was how England tried to construct the game. They didn’t. Anything that even resembled an attack came from a set piece. This was partly due to the fact that the middle of each break was ultimately worked out to the full-backs without real craftsmanship. The game gradually became England forcing territory for better positioned set pieces. Maybe Southgate actually read too much Eddie Jones.
It feels remarkable to say this was a team that featured Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden before you even get to Harry Kane, who made falling behind such a part of his game. The problem, however, was where they played.
Bellingham had to cover too much ground, often leaving a huge gap between him and Declan Rice. It gave Jorginho the space to play some passes that you wouldn’t normally associate with him. Foden, meanwhile, felt like he was back on a solid tram line and not the fluid attacker we see at Manchester City changing positions.
A lot of that comes from formation. The three-man defense dictates that so many roles are filled out of tactical necessity, meaning there aren’t the shorts or vents for England’s array of attacking talent.
They are all education.
Italy, on the other hand, was all system. They didn’t have anywhere near the talent of England but made a game out of it through their approach. There was a greater fluidity and idea.
There was also a purpose.
Even the directness of Raspadori’s magnificent goal was something England missed.
Far more alarming, however, was how easily a side built on this defensive framework could be opened.
That falls on Walker. He was too easily taken down by Leo Bonucci’s admittedly fine ball over the top and then easily dodged.
It still needed a special hit from Raspadori, mind you. Don’t overlook that.
It meant Southgate had to deal with changes, eventually bringing a change from the three as well as some attacking intent.
There were some openings at last as Gianluigi Donnarumma was forced into solid saves for the first time.
There were echoes of the away game against Germany, although England shouldn’t make a habit of going into the World Cup: they only looked dangerous when falling behind.
Even then, it’s difficult not to feel like Southgate will be a lot more concerned about the odds they spit out in that final spell.
The precocious Wilfried Gnonto certainly enjoyed the space.
England just looked cramped.
Italy alone is the ultimate example of how World Cup history has been illuminated by teams who suddenly came together out of nowhere – but it’s an alarm in itself that England must now call attention to.
They were nowhere. They are said to be in the final stages of a project that is coming together for so long.
For now, despite so many defenders pinning it together, it only looks like it’s about to fall apart.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/italy-england-result-report-nations-league-b2174253.html Italy vs England: Result, report and highlights of Three Lions relegation from Nations League Group A