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Three talking points for Gareth Southgate’s England following the international break

Martyn Cooke

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Gareth Southgate started his reign as the permanent manager of England with a straight-forward victory against Lithuania in a World Cup Qualifier at Wembley and an honorable defeat in Dortmund in a friendly against Germany.

Here are three key talking points from the latest international break.

Gareth Southgate: Not such a nice guy?

When Gareth Southgate was appointed as the interim manager of the England national team there were many onlookers who claimed that the 46-year-old was “too nice” to handle the pressure and scrutiny that comes with leading your country.

It was a popular line that was trotted out by media outlets, expert pundits and supporters alike. However, Southgate successfully debunked and disproved that misconception when he announced his first squad since being handed the England managerial role on a permanent basis.

Wayne Rooney, who had declared himself fit for Manchester United’s upcoming game against Middlesbrough, and Theo Walcott, arguably in the best form of his career, were both omitted from the 26-man squad that will face Germany and Lithuania. Jermain Defoe, Luke Shaw and Jake Livermore were recalled whilst four other uncapped players were also selected.

Rooney’s exclusion from the international squad came as little surprise. The 31-year-old has struggled for form and fitness at club level whilst he has been little more than a bit-part player at the new look Manchester United that is being moulded by Jose Mourinho. Rooney has scored just five goals across all competitions so far this campaign and has been resigned mostly to making substitute appearances, with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial currently residing above him in the pecking order. In short, there is compelling evidence to suggest that his career at the very top level is coming to an end. However, dropping the country’s all-time leading goal scorer was still a big call for Gareth Southgate to make and it proves that he will not bow down to players with big reputations and high profiles.

Theo Walcott was also axed by Southgate in a ruthless move that suggests that the England manager will not be afraid to dismiss those that fail to perform for him on the pitch. At club level, the winger has been in good form and has scored 17 goals for Arsenal this season – more than any other player selected in the latest international squad. But Southgate had his own opinion: Walcott had produced poor displays in his previous appearances in an England shirt and that there is no room for players that are unable to replicate their club performances.

These were bold, ruthless decisions. Maybe Southgate is not such a nice guy after all.

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A change in formation, a change in direction?

There have been some early signs of progress for England under the stewardship of Gareth Southgate. These include a positive squad selection, a promising performance against Germany and a solid victory in the World Cup Qualifier against Lithuania at the weekend.

The performance in Dortmund on Wednesday evening stands out as the most positive and promising aspect of the last seven days. Southgate deployed a new-look 3-4-3 formation that was fresh, exciting and caused the German side a multitude of problems and it was fascinating to watch an England side playing in a different manner to the rigid 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 systems that previous managers have utilised.

Yes, the short trip onto the continent ended in defeat against an improvised German side, but the team looked more fluid, dangerous, composed and solid for long spells of the contest than at any point in the previous decade.

The 3-4-3 formation suited the personnel at Southgate’s disposal. Ryan Bertrand and Kyle Walker were given free rein to provide width and make driving runs in wide areas whilst Dele Alli and Adam Lallana had the freedom to express themselves in the final third behind the lone front man. In addition to this, you can see those players that were absent from the team being able to fit seamlessly into the new system. When Harry Kane returns from injury you would imagine that he would be in his element leading the line with the creative talents of Alli and Lallana playing just in behind him.

It is telling that Southgate reverted back to a 4-2-3-1 formation against Lithuania and that the level of performance was relatively unimpressive. England scored two wonderfully worked goals and never looked like losing against opposition that aspired simply to stifle the game and pile ten men behind the ball from the opening minute, but the overall display was uninspiring.

The 3-4-3 formation is the way forward for England – the two displays over the last week clearly demonstrate that fact.

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Rising stars, fallen stars and revived stars

Gareth Southgate’s new era, as the permanent manager of England at least, has thrown up some intriguing questions over the futures of a number of key players.

First, the performances produced by Dele Alli should give supporters hope for the future. The 20-year-old was impressive in Dortmund on Wednesday evening and he continues to develop into a genuine world-class talent. His creativity and innovation in possession should make him key to Southgate’s long-term plans and he is now carrying himself with an obvious air of confidence and self-belief.

Much unlike Joe Hart. The Manchester City goalkeeper is currently plying his trade in Italy as part of a season-long loan deal with Torino after falling out of favour at the Etihad Stadium. However, he looked jittery against Lithuania, on the rare occasions that he was called into action, especially at the end of the first half where John Stones had to clear the ball off the line after Hart had bungled his intervention against Vykintas Slivka. England are certainly not short of talent in the goalkeeping department with Fraser Forster, Jack Butland (who returned to training this week) and Tom Heaton all waiting in the wings – Joe Hart needs to rediscover his mojo before Southgate starts to look at other options.

Jermain Defoe marked his recall to the England squad with a vintage close range finish to take his tally of international goals up to 20. The 34-year-old is certainly not a long-term solution for Southgate but his inclusion was completely justified following his goal scoring exploits for Sunderland. Defoe’s return might just spark a reaction from Daniel Sturridge – who has been struggling for form and fitness so far this campaign.

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Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Crystal Palace

Ruben Loftus-Cheek deserves England start after Tunisia cameo

The 22-year-old proved the catalyst for England in his second-half cameo.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

England managed to get their World Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a win over Tunisia.

It wasn’t straightforward and they had to wait until stoppage time, but Harry Kane popped up at the crucial time to deliver three points.

Their next match is against Panama on Sunday and a win will almost certainly be enough to see them through to the next round.

Germany’s loss against Mexico means that it may be beneficial for the Three Lions to finish second in their group, but Gareth Southgate will be focused on qualifying first and foremost.

The performance from England was a refreshing one as the players looked to play in a positive manner and were confident in their ability to play out from the back.

There were some sketchy moments, but mistakes are part of the process and there is now real hope for a better future.

Southgate has put his faith in a lot of younger players and one made an impact on Monday.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a surprise selection, but the midfielder was brought on against Tunisia and he had a positive impact.

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

England looked like they were tiring and it was important that Southgate made the necessary changes to get a win.

It was a risk to bring on the 22-year-old considering his lack of experience, but he provided dynamism in the centre of the park when it was required.

During his short time on the pitch, he looked to be aggressive in his movement and managed to break free in the final third on a couple of occasions.

He completed one dribble and won his only aerial duel. Loftus-Cheek had a breakthrough season with Crystal Palace and he could emerge as one of the breakout stars of the competition if he continues to play in a positive manner.

At times, England looked lightweight and lacking ideas in the middle of the park.

Dele Alli was a shadow of his usual self and appeared to be carrying a knock. He managed to produce one key pass, but his influence was limited.

Meanwhile, Jesse Lingard offered threatening movement, but his final ball was poor. He had a number of chances in the final third and none of them resulted in a goal.

Although he was only on the pitch for roughly ten minutes, Loftus-Cheek provided athleticism and drive that the team were previously lacking.

All of his contributions were made with the right intentions and he seemed to grow on the world stage.

It would have been easy for the midfielder to come on and play it safe. He didn’t do that and Southgate would have been encouraged by that.

Panama is a game that England should be targeting for three points. Southgate saw that his chosen formation worked against Tunisia, but there could be a change of players that makes it more effective.

Loftus-Cheek has to be one of the players lined up for a start for either Lingard or Alli. There is an opportunity for experimentation and if the 22-year-old can deliver over ninety minutes, it could be a sign of what is to come this summer.

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Three things learnt from England’s World Cup victory against Tunisia

They left it late, but The Three Lions grabbed a deserved opening game victory.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

England kicked off their World Cup campaign with a victory against Tunisia on Monday evening and gave their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the tournament a significant boost.

However, it was far from straightforward and it took a last-gasp injury time goal from Harry Kane to secure the three points.

Here, The Boot Room highlights three things that we learnt from England vs Tunisia.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Harry Kane is key to England’s prospects

We have often seen England players struggled to perform at major international tournaments, but Harry Kane quickly squashed any doubts over whether he would be able to transfer his domestic goal scoring form onto the international stage.

The Tottenham Hotspur forward scored 41 goals for his club this season and he further underlined the claim that he is one of the best striker’s in Europe with two crucial strikes on Monday evening. Neither were particularly impressive, both were close range finishes, but his knack of being in the right place at the right time was ultimately the difference on the night.

It is easy to forget that Kane is only 24-years-old and is one of the youngest captains at the World Cup, yet he showed no signs of feeling the pressure and his clinical instincts in front of goal will be key if England are to progress to the latter stages of the tournament.

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Need to be more clinical in front of goal

In many respects, Harry Kane’s injury-time winner has meant that the attention has been directed away by how wasteful England were in front of goal during the opening period.

Whilst the team produced an impressive first half display, a number of individual players were guilty of missing a host of guilt-edged chances. Dele Alli saw his header deflected onto the bar whilst Jesse Lingard failed to convert two clear-cut chances, one clipping the post whilst the other was fired too close to the Tunisian goalkeeper.

In truth, England could have been out of sight by half time and Tunisia were fortunate to reach the half time interval on level terms.

However, if Gareth Southgate’s side are to progress to the latter stages of the World Cup then they can ill afford to be as wasteful in front of goal as they were on Monday, especially when they come up against better opposition.

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Impact substitutes

Midway through the second half with the game tied at one goal apiece Gareth Southgate would have undoubtedly glanced back at the England substitutes gathered on the bench as he considered how to change the game.

The good news is that the squad has good strength in depth, particularly in forward areas, and there are certainly plenty of players that have the capacity to make an impact when coming off the bench.

On Monday evening Southgate opted to place his faith in Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both came on and made a significant impact on the game with their energy, pace, power and movement and their introduction certainly helped to generate new momentum in the closing stages of the contest.

It is refreshing to see an England squad that has so many options, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck were not involved, and it will be crucial that Southgate utilises all the talent in his squad as the tournament progresses.

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World Cup One To Watch: England’s 24-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford

The England international will be a player to keep an eye out for in Russia.

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Jordan Pickford
Photo: Getty Images

After an impressive Premier League season for Everton, it perhaps comes a little surprise that Jordan Pickford has been named as England’s first choice goalkeeper for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

At a time when the country’s goalkeeping options have never looked stronger, the Everton number one has emerged as Gareth Southgate’s preferred option ahead of this month’s competition in Russia.

The 24-year-old, preferred to Stoke City‘s Jack Butland and Burnley‘s Nick Pope, now has the opportunity to build on an outstanding season at club level.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

Who is he?

Jordan Pickford became the most expensive British keeper in history after Everton paid £25 million – rising to what would be a club record £30 million – to sign him from Sunderland last summer.

A product of the Black Cats’ Academy, after joining the club aged eight – he has had spells on loan at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End.

Despite a turbulent season for the club as a whole, Pickford enjoyed an impressive debut campaign at Goodison Park, which saw him named the Toffees’ Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season.

Playing every minute in all 38 Premier League fixtures for the Blues, the 24-year-old has quickly begun to repay what had previously been considered a hefty price-tag.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

What is his international experience/record?

Having represented England at all levels from Under-16s, Pickford his senior bow in a 0-0 draw against world champions Germany in November 2017 before keeping a second clean sheet in a 1-0 away win against Holland in his second appearance for The Three Lions.

The 24-year-old made only his third international appearances when he started in a 2-1 friendly victory over Nigeria last weekend before he was all-but confirmed as Southgate’s number one shot-stopper ahead of the summer competition.

It is suggested that his superior ability with the ball at his feet and distribution is more conducive to the possession-based pressing style the relatively inexperienced England boss wants to implement.

Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?

“I was really pleased with what Jordan did,” Gareth Southgate revealed, as per BBC Sport, full of praise for Pickford after his performance against Nigeria.

“Normally, when you play for England, there’s not an awful lot of opportunity to produce a lot of saves. But his decision making on crosses, the punch he made, his distribution and calmness to slide passes into midfield… that was really important to the way we want to play.”

Pickford’s form will be absolutely key for an England side that has struggled for creativity in recent years.

The Three Lions’ progression from Group C – competing with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama – is likely to come down to the slimmest of margins and, in keeping goals out at the other end of the pitch, the 24-year-old will be instrumental.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

What is his future after the World Cup?

While many Premier League fans would initially consider Pickford content to stay at Goodison Park, an impressive showing in Russia could prove a springboard to even greater things.

According to recent reports by The Sun, Bayern have been scouting Pickford in recent months as they look to bring in a new long-term first-choice goalkeeper.

The former Sunderland favourite’s progress since his £30 million move means the Bavarian giants have identified the 24-year-old as a top choice for succeeding club icon Manuel Neuer.

Ahead of the World Cup, Bayern will surely not be the only side monitoring his future, with assured goalkeepers becoming increasingly difficult to lay hands on.

Involvement in Russia could result in an unexpected and somewhat premature Goodison exit for Pickford. Watch this space.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

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