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The problems England coach Gareth Southgate must address before the World Cup

| 18.06.2022

England World Cup: The issues facing Gareth Southgate

England crashed to a heavy defeat to Hungary on Tuesday night and ended the June international break with no wins and no goals from open play.

It was not great preparation for the winter World Cup, now just five months away, with a minority of fans turning on Gareth Southgate during the 4-0 loss at Molineux.

Here, we look at what has gone wrong this month and how Southgate can fix any issues before the opening game in Qatar.

How bad was this international break?

These four Nations League fixtures were always going to present problems, coming as they did at the end of such a long season.

Fatigue and fitness issues affected nations across Europe and England, in particular, struggled to deal with the tiredness among the squad.

Southgate attempted to balance a need for results, preparations for Qatar and managing minutes for his players but failed to do so effectively in any of the fixtures.

Harry Kane’s late penalty in Germany rescued a point while there was a goalless draw at home to Italy with home and away losses to Hungary bookending a disappointing run of results.

Are there any other reasons for England’s woes?

Southgate pointed to not being able to name his strongest side in any of the four games and he will be hoping that changes when he picks his team to face Iran at the World Cup.

Both of his preferred left-backs – Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell – were missing through injury, while vice-captain Jordan Henderson was rested completely following a gruelling campaign with Liverpool. Phil Foden was only able to make a late cameo off the bench in the final game having tested positive for coronavirus.

Southgate wants to be judged on results and performances once he can call upon such players, but a lack of depth within his squad has arguably been revealed this month.

What are the major issues?

Goals.

England have now failed to score from open play for over six hours, with Southgate admitting “concern” over the reliance on Kane and Raheem Sterling to find the back of the net.

Kane reached a half-century of goals with his penalty in Munich and now has one more international goal that the rest of the current squad combined.

Southgate also has reason for worry that some of the players integral to England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-final and Euro 2020 final are out of form.

Most noticeably, Manchester United captain Harry Maguire endured a difficult campaign and was still out of sorts this month – and he was not the only one.

So, is Southgate’s position under threat?

It is highly unlikely that Southgate will not be England manager come the World Cup.

He described the Hungary defeat as “chastening” but insisted he always had his eyes open to the fact the feel-good factor he has enjoyed for much of his five-and-a-half-year tenure would be tested at times.

Harry Kane, England v Hungary Nations League, England World Cup

The 51-year-old has a fine track record in major tournaments and importantly retains the support of the group of players he has no doubt elevated since taking the reins.

Kane said he was “disappointed” to even be asked questions over Southgate’s future having praised the former Middlesbrough boss on the eve of the Molineux defeat.

Even Hungary boss Marco Rossi backed Southgate to get the job done despite enjoying two wins over him in quick succession.

But he has to sort this before the World Cup – how long does he have?

With the unique situation of a winter tournament, the Three Lions kick off against Iran on November 21 – 160 days on from the loss to Hungary.

Before then, Southgate has just two further Nations League matches to address any long-standing issues – away to Italy and at home to Germany in September.

Southgate will be hoping his players start the 2022/23 season in fine fettle to give him some selection headaches but he also needs to decide which formation gets the best out of his squad.

While the ability to play with a back three or a flat four-man defence can keep opponents guessing, constantly flitting between systems can also lead to confusion among his own camp.

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Author

Warren Barner