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EURO 2024: Southgate Era Set To Be Defined

Gareth Southgate addresses the media

As Gareth Southgate approaches his fourth major tournament as England boss, his side are firmly among the front runners to take the title in Germany. Initially, on naming the 33 man training squad, this was one of the managers boldest squad selections to date, which has been followed my more bold cuts.

The omissions of Jordan Henderson and Marcus Rashford have made the most headlines, with the pair having been mainstays of Three Lions squads in recent years. Gareth Southgate had always remained very loyal to some of his stars. Henderson, who had been included in past squads following his big money move to the Saudi Pro League. Henderson moved to Ajax in the winter window, hoping to cement his place in the 26, but injury curtailed any hope of booking his ticket to the championships. 

Marcus Rashford had struggled for form throughout the season and with a plethora of attacking talent at his disposal, he will sit this one out. 

Now the manager has had to go even further with trimming his selection down to the final twenty-six, showing a ruthless streak we perhaps haven’t seen previously.

England stalwart Harry Maguire doesn’t make the trip, as he won’t recover in time from his injury. You would have thought that if there was to be any possibility in him recovering to be available at any point in the tournament, Southgate would have taken that calculated gamble. Much like he has done with Maguire’s club mate Luke Shaw. 

With one of his first choice centre half’s having to depart the camp, it has made further decisions in that area of the field even more surprising. 

Lewis Dunk has been preferred to Jarred Branthwaite. Despite the Everton youngster enjoying a stellar season, which has brought him onto everyone’s radar, the Seagulls captain has retained his squad place. Branthwaite is the future of the England side, left footed, comfortable in possession and an excellent reader of the game, he would have seemed the perfect partner for John Stones. Dunk has never quite shown to the England supporters that he is the man to step up to the international stage, but it can only be assumed that the manager has opted for experience over youth on this occasion. Liverpool youngster Quansah also misses out, but it is perhaps one tournament too early for him. 

The other highest profile axing from the squad is Jack Grealish. 

Despite not reaching the heights of the treble season, it is clear that Grealish possesses a huge amount of quality that would make him more than worthy of a place. But the fact that the manager doesn’t see Grealish being able to have an impact from the bench, is a huge shock. 

Squad selection aside, the greatest issue that stirs the most debate throughout the country, is if the England manager is brave and flexible enough tactically to get the team to glory. 

Much has been said about Southgate’s approach, with it being ‘safety first’ and at times being slow to react to the game unfolding before him throughout the years.

Rewind back to the World Cup semi-final, with Croatia growing into the ascendency and threatening Englands one goal lead, the manager didn’t alter his teams setup before the Croats capitalising and taking the game to extra time. 

A much similar story would transpire in the final of EURO 2020, up against The Italians at Wembley. England were dominant in the first half, but following the half time interval, Roberto Mancini was able to tweak his side, therefore dominating possession and putting England on the back foot. You felt the goal was coming and ultimately that proved to be the case. England would go on to lose on penalties. But had the manager had acted earlier, changing his setup and wrestling control of the game back from his opponents, the story could have perhaps had a different ending,

Despite what seems to be some shortcomings in defensive personnel, it is clear that England have an abundance of talent in forward areas, spearheaded by all time leading goalscorer and captain Harry Kane. This team also has two generational talents, currently at the top of their game in Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham. 

The latter has just completed his maiden season at Real Madrid, rounding off a stunning campaign with Champions League glory at the home of English football. Phil Foden has sweeped up all individual accolades in driving Manchester City to another Premier League title. 

Southgate has to find the formula that brings the best out of both players and puts them at the heart of this England team. Belllingham has been deployed as a 10 in his maiden season in the Spanish capital, while many also dispute that Foden is most potent when deployed centrally. Key to finding the best out of these two precocious talents, will be the foundations laid behind by Gareth Southgate.

Should he want to see them paired centrally, it could see both start slightly deeper with one holding midfield player in a 4-3-3 formation, who would of course be Arsenal’s Declan Rice. This would be a surprise somewhat, given that the England manager prefers to deploy two holding midfield players in a 4-2-3-1 to protect his backline. 

In the deeper midfield positions, following the decision to leave Henderson and Kalvin Phillips out of his travelling party, the door is open for Kobee Mainoo, Adam Wharton or Trent Alexander-Arnold to step into the fold to partner Rice.

TAA’s natural position as we know is at right back, but he was named as a midfielder is the squad list, giving the indication that this is where Southgate sees his role in the national setup. He has a wonderful array of passes, that could prove very useful against lesser opposition, as seen in Mondays warm up fixture. But the question remains with the Liverpool man, that is if he is able to sense danger and offer enough defensive cover when facing up to top opponents. 

In Mainoo & Wharton we have two very talented young players, both emerging this season in the Premier League to much acclaim. Red Devils youngster Mainoo has already demonstrated his mentality and ability to perform on the big occasion, most recently with his performance and goal in the FA cup final. 

Wharton has had a stellar five months since his move to Selhurst Park, he reads the game wonderfully and probably his most impressive trait is his ability to see forward passes, breaking lines through midfield and feeding attacking players in the top third of the pitch. 

It will be so intriguing to see what way the boss goes, as there are multiple options available. Will it be a brave new approach? Or does Southgate stick to his tried and tested formulas? 

Logic and previous setups would suggest that Southgate goes with a four at the back, in a 4-2-3-1. But with these ruthless calls in chopping his squad down, does this suggest an altering in approach?

What can’t be questioned, is that Southgate has done a stellar job in growing the connection between players and fan base during his reign, whilst also bringing us closer to success than we have ever been since 1966. 

It often goes unnoticed that Gareth Southgate was at the heart of the ‘England DNA’ launch back in 2014. Alongside Dan Ashworth, Southgate was instrumental in laying the foundations for the way the future England player was produced at both Academy and grassroots levels. 

This has brought unprecedented success to the age group sides, thus creating this extremely talented group of players now at his disposal. It has been said countless times, that Gareth Southgate was employed to make the step up to Senior team manager as he would not cause the FA a ‘headache’, but it always seemed that he was lined up for the role, although maybe had to make the step sooner than expected, given the Sam Allardyce debacle. 

There is also much to be admired in the fact that despite constant criticism and questioning of his selection and methods from the media, he stands by his calls. You need a strong character to take the mantle as England manager and he has always demonstrated his resilience during his tenure, never appearing flustered and retaining his calming personality and temperament.

This tournament will define his time as England manager to many, whether he will be the man that led the nation back to football glory, or the ‘nearly man’, who never quite delivered on expectation.

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