19 December 2022

Keep faith and beat big nations – how Southgate can help England take next step

19 December 2022

Gareth Southgate can turn his attention to Euro 2024 after deciding to stay on as England manager.

England begin their qualification campaign in March with a repeat of last year’s European Championship final against Italy and also face Ukraine, Malta and North Macedonia.

Here, the PA news agency looks at how Southgate can turn England into champions.

Keep the faith

Not all quarter-final exits are equal. Yes there was a familiarity about England’s loss to France in the last eight in Qatar but Southgate’s young side looked genuine World Cup contenders and there could have been no complaints had the result gone the other way. In particular, the 4-3-3 formation allowed England’s exciting forward players to flourish without proving too costly defensively.

Start better

The one major criticism of England’s performances in Qatar was their tendency to start slowly. They did not score a goal in the first 30 minutes in any of their five matches. France punished Southgate’s side with an early goal and, although England responded very well in the second half, things might have played out differently had they found the same intensity in the opening 45 minutes.

Cultivate Bellingham

While many England players impressed in Qatar, the stand-out was clearly teenager Jude Bellingham. His energy and dynamism in midfield is a huge asset on the international stage and his maturity for a 19-year-old is remarkable. Southgate is blessed with many options in midfield and attack but Bellingham is a player to build a side around.

In-game tactics

Southgate’s detractors, and there remain a sizeable number, frequently highlight his use of substitutes as a weakness. He certainly has the players to change a game from the bench and has a tendency to err towards conservatism. A little more boldness could help England take that next small step.

Defensive strength

John Stones and Harry Maguire both enjoyed a strong tournament but defence is an area Southgate needs to think about ahead of the Euros. Should he give more chances to the likes of Ben White and Fikayo Tomori with an eye on the future? And where does Trent Alexander-Arnold fit in with Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier both in their 30s?

Big match mentality

Although England have now gone semi-final, final, quarter-final at their last three tournaments, their record in competitive matches against the top nations remains poor. When the margins are so fine, Southgate’s biggest battle may simply be to get his squad completely believing that they are good enough to lift the trophy.

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