England manager Gareth Southgate believes his side could have won their Group 3 UEFA Nations League fixture against Italy on Friday night, a repeat of last year’s Euros final.
The Three Lions were undone by a Giacomo Raspadori strike midway through the second half. The Italians ran away 1-0 victors, relegating their counterparts to the ‘B League’ section of the Nations League.
England were toothless in front of goal, despite having more shots than the Azzurri. Southgate’s men have now gone five games in the Nations League without scoring a goal from open-play.
However, Southgate was still hopeful after the game, stating that positives can be taken from the match which bodes well for the future.
“It’s difficult for me to be too critical of the performance,” said Southgate in his post-match press conference. “We had more possession, more shots, more shots on target. For large parts of the game we played very well. We didn’t deal with the decisive moment defensively and we had moments where we could have been more decisive in their final third.
“We’re not in an ideal situation in terms of numbers of players playing at the highest level but we’ve got to keep working at it and keep on track. There will be a huge amount of noise but that has been created from the summer and I totally understand that. The players know this was a game they could have won. If they take their chances and defend the goal better then we do win. It’s fine margins against the biggest football nations and the fine margins are decisive.
“We are where we are in terms of the timing so we need to do the best we can in terms of keeping the guys on track. The reaction to what I say now will be guided by the result completely, but we weren’t far off in terms of performance. I have got to keep the players believing in what they are doing and keep them from being distracted by going into areas that aren’t correct. That’s the task I’ve got.”
Southgate himself has made some questionable tactical and formational decisions in recent months, with the result against Italy being no exception.
Arsenal star Bukayo Saka, who’s just been awarded England Men’s Player of the Year for 2021/2022, found himself playing left-wingback despite being one of the best right-wingers in the Premier League.
Manchester United captain Harry Maguire also started last night’s encounter in spite of many England fans questioning his squad selection in the first place. Maguire is one of Southgate’s trusted men after the defender has been solid in England colours under the current management. However, the manager will receive greater backlash as a result of starting the former Leicester man who had, at best, an average game.
A player who did repay the manager’s faith is Jude Bellingham, the standout performer from the Three Lions’ camp. The midfielder stated his claim to be starting for Southgate come the World Cup. Bellingham is being touted by all of Europe’s elite after Dortmund set their price for the starlet. The German club will be hoping Bellingham stars at this year’s World Cup in order to receive an even higher fee once he moves on.
Gareth Southgate needs to change something in the way England play, otherwise the dreams of bringing “football home” will be nothing short of a fantasy, as the Three Lions will struggle to progress far in Qatar later this year.