Time and a plan: England stars can shine at Euro 2024

Time and a plan: England stars can shine at Euro 2024

This England team are filled with players used to winning at their clubs with total faith in their managers’ systems. It becomes ingrained when you work at it on a daily basis.

International football is different. Phil Foden has been with Pep Guardiola for years and, after a full season at Real Madrid, Jude Bellingham knows exactly what Carlo Ancelotti wants.

It’s harder when players are thrown together. You don’t automatically perform with the same freedom if you’re struggling to find the right wavelength.

Fans can’t expect England to be a well-oiled machine like City but what is possible is to have clarity about the team plan. That needs to happen against Slovakia today.

During the group stages, Gareth Southgate’s players have seemed split between going on the front foot and staying patient to protect their own goal. In the knockouts, there can’t be any confusion with the mindset.

England are filled with players used to winning at their clubs with total faith in their managers’ systems

Fans can’t expect England to be a well-oiled machine like Manchester City but what is possible is to have clarity about the team plan

Fans can’t expect England to be a well-oiled machine like Manchester City but what is possible is to have clarity about the team plan

I can see why it’s been a Catch-22 for Southgate. He’ll know major international tournaments are usually won on sound defence and pragmatism.

It worked for Portugal at Euro 2016, France at the 2018 World Cup and Italy three years ago.

The flip side is that the current England players are used to playing more expansively under Mikel Arteta, Guardiola and Ancelotti.

Southgate won’t purposefully be asking his players to defend deep but neither does he want to take as much risk as those clubs. Hence England haven’t got the balance right, which has left the squad frustrated and confused.

It was only the last half-hour against Slovenia that there was a joined-up plan. We were committed to being bold, the back four pushed up and it allowed our pressure to be more concerted.

It has to be the template for the next game, even if Harry Kane isn’t the most dynamic of centre-forwards in leading the press.

Against Slovakia, I think we’ll see a lot of the ball and can be adventurous because their strikers don’t have the pace to get in behind on the counter-attack.

The biggest thing is to have a collective game-plan. Are we going after them to try and win with urgency, or are we opting for patience and game intelligence?

Bellingham can press if he stays at 10 as his ability to close down is as good as anyone

Bellingham can press if he stays at 10 as his ability to close down is as good as anyone

Phil Foden has total faith in Pep Guardiola at Manchester City after years of winning trophies

Phil Foden has total faith in Pep Guardiola at Manchester City after years of winning trophies

Whichever it is, everyone must be on board. Against Denmark, I couldn’t see what we were doing with or without the ball.

Jude Bellingham can press if he stays at 10. His tenacity and ability to close down is as good as anyone. You saw him get a bit frustrated with Kane when he ran past him to press the man that Kane should have done.

Pressing is a collective thing and when it works, it is infectious. When a team gain success together, you start enjoying it.

Gareth Southgate will want his team to be more progressive than they have been so far

Gareth Southgate will want his team to be more progressive than they have been so far

But ideally you work at it over a long period. For example, we can’t expect Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka to be as in sync with England’s system as they are at Arsenal. I’ve no doubt Gareth will want his team to be more progressive than they have been, but there is a logic in not demanding them to be crazy high-energy from the outset. Those teams aren’t usually around when the medals are handed out.

This second phase is the time to show a bit more intensity and against Slovakia we have the perfect opportunity.

 

ENGLAND HAVE TO REMAIN DISCIPLINED 

When Manchester City are at their best, Erling Haaland stays high to stretch the length of the pitch, and the wide players hold their positions to create options for the designated No 10.

With England, it’s not worked out like that. Bellingham has been chosen at 10 but Kane has dropped deep instead of making the pitch longer, and Foden has drifted inside — England’s lack of width has been exacerbated by Kieran Trippier being a right-footed left back.

Having all those players so central makes it easy to defend against. The best way is to have fewer bodies there. The heat map for Bellingham and Foden after Slovenia suggested they were both taking up similar positions.

We know Kane can link play but he has to sacrifice that side of his game to stay around the penalty area to make the pitch bigger.

Whoever is on the left has to be disciplined and not crowd the middle of the park. There is a saying that you have to create space before you fill it. England haven’t done that, and have looked sluggish.

 

KANE AND FODEN HAVE TO RESIST TEMPTATION 

It appears Southgate may stick to the same system with Kobbie Mainoo, rather than Conor Gallagher, partnering Rice in midfield. In that case, Kane and Foden have to resist the temptation against Slovakia today to go into the areas Bellingham needs for himself.

I’d do it slightly differently. People forget Bellingham first made his name as an orthodox midfielder and I think he’d love to drop a bit deeper. Jude is as strong as an ox and loves a battle and a tackle. 

At No 10, you are reliant on service from others. Playing closer to Rice, in place of Gallagher or Mainoo, he’d be able to hunt the ball and make things happen himself.

Kane and Foden need to keep out of the areas that Jude Bellingham (pictured) needs himself

Kane and Foden need to keep out of the areas that Jude Bellingham (pictured) needs himself

If Bellingham vacated No 10, it would allow Foden to become the main playmaker, with Anthony Gordon on the left. On the right, either Saka or Cole Palmer can do the job.

A football match isn’t always precise. Players have to react to events. But the general philosophy of players holding position to help the No 10 is important.

 

ONE TO WATCH 

Having been in the stadium to see Slovakia draw against Romania to qualify for the last 16, I have good news — and a warning — for England.

The warning is that they will have to keep a special eye on Napoli star Stanislav Lobotka.

He is a technically gifted holding midfield player who loves getting the ball from the back and dictating play. Lobotka has quick feet and a low centre of gravity and all the England players need to keep a special eye on him. He is the conductor.

England will have to keep a close eye on Slovakia and Napoli star Stanislav Lobotka (right)

England will have to keep a close eye on Slovakia and Napoli star Stanislav Lobotka (right)

Slovakia are resilient but the good news for England is that their forwards Ivan Schranz and Lukas Haraslin don’t have real pace to threaten on the counter.

It means John Stones and Marc Guehi have the green light to step up the pitch in the safe knowledge they won’t be as vulnerable to the long ball behind them as they would against the Dutch front three, for example.

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