Five ways Southgate can fix England’s creativity issues after uninspired outings
Holly Thackeray | 13 October 2016
How Southgate can fix England’s creativity issues
Gareth Southgate hasn’t had it easy; thrown into the Three Lions den at short notice with some of the England national team’s main players out through injury.
On the other hand, the interim gaffer has been handed a dream job and at least temporary promotion from the Under 21s. Southgate’s opening two games in charge couldn’t have looked easier on paper either, but the caretaker coach’s senior England initiation hasn’t quite panned out as expected.
Yes, Southgate is undefeated (and the Three Lions are 5/4 with Coral to remain so in World Cup qualifying), but took only four points from a possible six after games against Malta and Slovenia.
Cast an eye further back, including the Home Nation’s disastrous Euro 2016 exit, and the Three Lions have fired in just four goals in their last five outings.
It’s hardly time for the panic button but evidently against Slovenia there was a lack of clear cut chances carved, while more goals would also have been expected in a turgid tussle with minnows Malta.
According to Southgate, he has “taken over a mess really and had to steady the ship,” following Roy Hodgson and Sam Allardyce’s departures.
So how can Southgate fix England’s creativity issues? Coral writers have our say…
Begin from the back
It may not have had long to gel, but the partnership between Gary Cahill and John Stones has big game errors written all over it. The mismatched defensive duo may be able to paper the cracks for now, but against a more ruthless outfit than Slovenia, those sloppy backpasses could have seen England easily two down.
Cahill’s lack of pace and form, plus Stones’ inexperience and occasional defensive frailties, are not compensated for by the combination of the former’s leadership and latter’s ball-playing ability.
It sounds strange to recommend using a defender able to spring attacks sparingly but, if Stones is to be used as a conductor, he requires a more powerful partner.
Chris Smalling is the obvious choice and, though a little rash himself on occasion, is indomitable and bullish on his day, as well as quick enough to recover from any mistakes, in a way Cahill cannot be.
The most probing passer Smalling is not, but the confidence to pour forwards starts with stability at the back.
This suggestion is in a similar vein. To be fair to Southgate, Shaw was not “quite back fit yet” after an illness scuppered his chances of England selection.
Wrapped in cotton wool since returning from his unfortunate leg break last season, Shaw is gradually returning to form for Manchester United.
But next time, England should be brave and bring the young left back into the fold – not just as a sub but as a starter. Danny Rose has done a decent job on the left defensive flank, but it is Shaw who should surely be the future in that Three Lions full back position.
Previously overlooked in favour of Leighton Baines, perhaps due to age, Shaw should be one of the first names on the team sheet. He’s shown he’s capable of lung bursting overlaps but, crucially, is also the most defensively alert.
It’s not a case of rushing, simply time for Shaw to take back his place, with Southgate priced at 9/4 to win his next two games versus Scotland and Spain.
No more Wilshere woe
“He’s desperate, I think, to play, but it’s in the hands of other people,” said Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe of loanee Jack Wilshere’s desire to play for England again.
It is easy to understand why the Arsenal-owned schemer has been dropped – recurrent injuries at club level and lack of match fitness.
Having featured in all the Cherries’ Premier League games so far though, despite yet to fulfill a full 90 minutes, hopefully soon Southgate will feel confident enough to select Wilshere once again.
Another injury setback would be disastrous, and the plotter needs to be managed carefully. He should not be needed against the likes of Malta and Slovenia, but should be brought in for bigger games such as Scotland, fitness permitting.
With Michael Carrick now no longer really an option, the Three Lions are without a true deep playmaker with top notch ability to change a game. Wilshere offers those long-range passes that England will need to compete with the very best, and should be used, with one of Eric Dier of Jordan Henderson sacrificed if needs be.
Keep Rooney in reserve
It seems knee-jerk to call for captain Wayne Rooney to be left out of the entire England set-up completely. The Three Lions’ record scorer should not be a scapegoat for lacklustre team-wide performances.
Yet, his positional uncertainty is a problem. When brought on the Man Utd man often slows down attacks and scuppers fluidity. Yet, he is equally capable of coming on and changing a game.
Southgate should avoid wasting a substitution just to bring Rooney on however, especially in a match when players are needed to stretch the game. Against Slovenia, one of impact players Jamie Vardy or Marcus Rashford, with their ability to get behind the defence and leave full backs and centre halves for dust, should have come on earlier instead of the skipper.
One of our great value Rooney bets features the captain at even-money not to start against the Scots.
Trust Rashford up top
It may be an old adage but if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. It makes sense not to overburden teenage talent Rashford with responsibility or burn him out early ala Michael Owen.
But, when you are struggling for goals, giving 10 minutes for Rashford to change a game seems even more unfair.
England, just like the youngster’s club Man Utd, need more movement and less static stars up top. A return for Raheem Sterling, if he can replicate his superb Manchester City form, should help solve this, but Rashford also adds another dimension.
With Harry Kane out injured, there are few better natural finishers on current form – which is what selections should be made on.
Rooney and Theo Walcott have had their chances. But Rashford is full of confidence and yet to disappoint. Rampant Rashford also pips other wide and striker options Daniel Sturridge, Rooney, Vardy, Jesse Lingard, Andros Townsend for Premier League goals this season, and is level with Walcott on three despite less game time.
A team containing Stones, Dele Alli and Rashford may seem too young on paper for some, but they remain the men who can make things happen for England. Risks and chances must be taken.
Agree or disagree with our suggestions to fix England’s creativity issues? Let us know your views in the comments section below.