The very beginning of the match. England play with five defenders and one of the fullbacks scores an early goal. No, this is not the final of Euro 2020 (although it is suitable), this is the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia.
England were not yet such a radically closed team, but even then they were playing with three central defenders and even then they used possession as a tool of defense, not attack. And in the semifinals she scored an early goal: Trippier beautifully put a direct free-kick.
Naturally, after that the Croats had the advantage. They had more possession of the ball, they hit more and created more dangerous chances. We can say that the British were satisfied with the score, so they just played on hold, but this is not true: the defensive plan provides for control over the game, and there was none. And the strangest thing happened in the second half after Perisic equalized the score. Instead of seizing the initiative and increasing the pressure or at least pushing the game away from their gates, England began to allow even more. The difference between strikes when the score is 1: 1 until the end of regular time is 7: 3, 5: 2 from the penalty area. In extra time, the picture has not changed, Croatia created chances and put the squeeze on the opponent.
Why did Croatia defeat England? There is a simple explanation
Now let’s get back to the Euro final. This England is a modified and improved version of that team. There are even more stars in the attack, but the entire attacking potential is even more sacrificed to defensive control. The possession is categorically sterile, a pair of defensive midfielders are forbidden to pass forward, and a pair of full-backs are connected to attacks at the same time only on holidays. But the holiday happened in the second minute, when Italy took a bad corner. The counterattack was so close to the surface that even this cautious England was able to scatter. The right winger (Trippier) served, the left winger (Shaw) scored – a classic attack for teams with three central defenders.
Naturally, the team, which always plays as if the score is 0: 0, takes it further, began to play on hold. In the first half, it turned out almost perfect. Moreover, in the first half, England, even within the framework of a strictly defensive plan, pressed opponents on the other side with pressure and almost did not allow chances. Just one shot from within the penalty area, and that blocked one is an indicator of complete control.
It turned out worse in the second half. Partly because the British got on the bus, forgetting about pressure and counterattacks. Partly due to permutations Roberto Mancini, which with one replacement (Berardi instead of Immobile) greatly changed the whole configuration of attacks. In any case, Italy did not play well enough to say that the goal followed the logic of the game. The goal was rather accidental.
But not only the goal itself is important (for example, the Croatian goal was brewing in 2018), but also the reaction to it. In both cases, England were the favorites and had an objectively stronger lineup and more resources to change and improve the game. But in both cases, Southgate merely watched passively as his team lost control of the situation.
Italy is the European champion. Football won (albeit on penalties)
This feature – the inability to react against the background of huge resources to improve the game – is surprising. After the Croatians leveled the score in the semi-finals of the World Cup (this happened in the 68th minute), they dominated and were closer to the second goal than the British. In the final of the Euro, this was even more pronounced. Immediately after the goal Bonucci there was a segment when the Italians could score the second and generally pressed the rivals to the penalty area. In the first 10 minutes after the goal (by the way, he was scored in the 67th minute, as well as the Croatian goal) – 80% of possession and a clear scoring chance for Berardi… And in total, from a goal to the end of regular time, the strike difference is 3: 1 and the possession of 67% to 33% is in favor of Italy. But why?
A strange pattern is developing. Southgate is satisfied with playing for a draw and counting in attack only on random goals on skill, and his team is really good at restraining rivals and is really good at attacking in episodes. After all, England have not conceded a single goal in the Euro. But if the advantage is suddenly lost and the opponent has equalized, the team cannot react. And return at least the level of control that was when the score was 0: 0.
In response to a missed goal, you can not only play worse – you can regain control, you can open the game in both directions, you can try to crush the opponent with pressure. But with Southgate, the national team reacts to missed goals by pressing even more. Weak reaction. And strange fragility for such a powerful team. But even it can be overcome when you have the world team in reserve. It just doesn’t seem to occur to Southgate.
During the second half of the final, Mancini took great risks. In addition to the usual Emerson, the attack actively began to rise and Di Lorenzo… Italy opened up and attacked not so much with class as with quantity. The players are greatly helped by a high-quality positional structure, but one cannot say that Bernardeschi, Belotti and Berardi are capable of breaking opponents one to one. Italy could and should have been punished for the risk – but instead England just pressed against the penalty area.
England scored with the first blow! Fastest goal in Euro finals history
Until now, it seemed that Southgate was acting as if according to a training manual – without emotions and attempts to show good football dries up the game, because it is beneficial to his team. But comparing the two matches, it seems that he is actually choosing a defensive scenario, even when it clearly hurts his team. The same Sancho and Rashford could have wiped out Italy’s weary defenses in overtime on counterattacks, but Southgate didn’t even think of releasing the attackers to play football on attack – he kept them as a penalty option.
There is no point in criticizing him again for style – this is a matter of taste. But this is no longer a matter of style, but of common sense. England has the world team in reserve. Okay, it can be sacrificed for defensive reliability at the beginning of the match, but not releasing fresh forwards at the end, when defensive control is no longer there (not a single team) – this is no longer a style, it is simply irrational. A coach who is ready for everything for the sake of the result should be ready and release the attacker, shouldn’t he?
The England coach sent a 19-year-old boy to the decisive penalty. Is Southgate a psychologist?
This is the systemic problem of England under Southgate. Not in closed football as such, but in the inability to see an alternative to closed football, even when it suggests itself. The England national team treats the very concept of attacking football like playing rounders – that is, it does not apply to it in any way. If England were more universal, it would be invincible.