For the second time since the conclusion of the disastrous Euro’s, England are embarking on a new era lead by a new man. Following Sam Allardyce’s auspicious end to his brief England career, Gareth Southgate has taken temporary charge of the senior men’s team. Becoming the first man to play for England, to manage the national team since Kevin Keegan.
The issue facing Southgate, is how to get people believing and caring about England following another black eye for the national team. The shadow of Allardyce will loom large over the England team during the build up to the Malta game.
Both Southgate and England captain Wayne Rooney, were questioned about Sam Allardyce in their respective press conferences. Southgate chose not to discuss the former manager, rather focussing on the fact that football can be a difficult industry to work in:
“There’s lots about the industry of football that I don’t like but it’s a sport I love, representing my country was something I loved and they’re the bits I have to focus on.”
One of the problems facing Southgate, and that was addressed by his predecessor during his debut on Beadles about, is the psychologically of the England players. Players who perform well week in week out for their clubs, struggle to replicate this kind of form for England. England players have been accused of not caring about playing for their country. A myth Southgate addressed:
“There was a brilliant picture of the bench when we scored against Slovakia and everybody was jumping up. Sometimes England teams are accused of not caring. But when you watch the celebrations of the players there, that gives us a chance.So I will talk (to the players) about what this means to me and the excitement, pride and honour of doing it.And then I won’t need to talk too much more.”
This is an audition process for Southgate, most people were underwhelmed when he was linked to the job in the summer. Again his name elected groans from the majority of football fans when he was put in temporary charge of the national team. But make no mistake Gareth Southgate was the heir apparent for the FA. His record for the Under-21’s had seen him lead England to the European Championships, but failing to get out of the group stage.
His team were undefeated in the qualifying process in the build up to the 2017 tournament, and his work at the Under-21 level was regarded as solid, if not speculator. So it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Southgate had been given the job at the conclusion of the World Cup in Russia. Southgate is a safe FA appointment, the Sam Allardyce reign has burnt the FA, and they will be looking for someone who won’t rock the boat, and ultimately won’t get caught up in any outside activities.
So the upcoming games against Malta and Slovenia will represent a chance for Southgate to convince the general public that he is the right man for the job. With follow up games against Spain, in a friendly, and auld enemy Scotland.
In terms of the squad that Southgate called up for the games with Malta and Slovenia, it wasn’t dramatically different from Allardyce’s last squad. Except for the additions of Marcus Rashford, Jessie Lingard, and Glen Johnson (replaced by Michael Keane, due to injury).
Gareth Southgate saw first-hand what Marcus Rashford can do, when the Manchester United striker scored a hat-trick on his England U21 debut against Norway last month. At the time, Rashford’s demotion to the age-group side was explained by his limited chances in the senior squad. But three goals in five appearances for Manchester United and Harry Kane’s absence due to injury seems to have changed that. Rashford is starting for United and he should start for England against Malta. He is in the in-form English striker in the country.
Jessie Lingard has also been a regular for Manchester United this season, and his reward for his consistency over the last 18 months has been rewarded with a call up. With Raheem Sterling having to pull out of the squad due to injury, it is likely that Lingard could feature in 1 if not both games. Although the fine form of Theo Walcott, and his tendency to score goals in an England shirt, might mean that Lingard has to settle for a place from the bench.
Glen Johnson was also called up, to the surprise of many as Stoke have had a torrid time, and Johnson hasn’t played for England since 2014. However Johnson was replaced by Burleys Michael Keane. Keane is another player who has worked with Southgate in the under-21 setup, and the experience of being around the squad could serve him well as he continues to shine for Burnley.
Like most international managers Southgate will have to deal with injuries, even if his spell is brief. Harry Kane and Luke Shaw are not fit, while Liverpool pair Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne picked up problems at Swansea. Jack Butland and Danny Drinkwater are also out of contention. Despite being fit neither Jack Wilshire nor Ross Barkley (both absent from Allardyce’s squad) were included either.
But what of the opposition that England will face. England will win the game against Malta. Currently England are 1/50 to win the game, and there playing a team that is ranked 176 in the world according to FIFA. England have far too much quality not to win this match, and it would be ample opportunity for Southgate to run the rule over 1 or 2 players he’s not sure about.
The issue with the Malta game isn’t necessarily the victory, it’ll happen, but rather the way that England go about the victory. England will be expected to win the game by a minimum of 3-0, if not more. The problem with sides of this calibre, is that the Wembley crowd tend to get restless if there hasn’t been a gluttony of goals by 30 minutes. Southgate will no doubt be happy with a win, but if he is to get the England fans on side, it needs to be a win with style.
On Tuesday England take on Slovenia. England have won all 4 of their previous fixtures against Slovenia, and despite struggling to break down Slovakia in their previous away game, this is another game England will be expected to win. This won’t be the free scoring event that the Malta game will be excepted to be. Slovenia are ranked 67th in the world, and may set up shop much like Slovakia to contain and frustrate the England team.
For Southgate he must take this audition and grab it by both hands. As has been pointed out by Alan Shearer, England are a laughing stock of world football at the moment. Two strong performances and 6 points will be the start of getting England away from being a laughing stock. Southgate has nothing to lose in these games, and will be looking to stake his claim as the next England manager.
England play Malta on Saturday with coverage staring at 4:30pm and Kick Off at 5pm
England play Slovenia on Tuesday with coverage starting at 7:15pm and Kick Off at 7:45pm
By Rich Lee @RichLee2202