England struggles to win group against Slovenia

England struggles to win group against Slovenia

He is not someone who shows what is going on inside him on the big football stage. Gareth Southgate, the England national coach, usually watches his team’s games sitting down. But anyone who saw how often he chewed his gum during the match against Slovenia on Tuesday evening in Cologne could imagine the pressure he is currently under.

England went into this European Championship as one of the top favorites, but so far they have disappointed like few other teams – and so even before this last group game they were speculating about a possible successor to Southgate: Jürgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Graham Potter – quite a few names were mentioned on a day when a lot was at stake, and not just for Southgate. England’s journey at this European Championship now continues in Gelsenkirchen after the 0:0 draw against Slovenia. In the round of 16 the team will probably face the Netherlands there on Sunday (6 p.m.).

Anyone who looked at the clubs where many Slovenians played before the game – Gornik Zabrze, Olimpija Ljubljana, Panathinaikos Athens or Pisa Sporting Club – could not necessarily assume that this team would cause the English any major problems. However, anyone who had seen Southgate’s team in the previous games against Serbia (1-0) and Denmark (1-1) had to fear exactly that.

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And indeed, England found it difficult to get into the game. The Slovenians defended in a disciplined manner and repeatedly attacked the player with the ball early on. It wasn’t a high level of tactics, but it was enough for the time being. When they lost sight of Phil Foden and he played the ball into the middle to Bukayo Saka, who scored from close range, the referee rightly ruled it offside (20th minute).

For the first time at this tournament, Southgate changed his starting lineup and put Conor Gallagher in place of Trent Alexander-Arnold alongside Declan Rice in midfield. “We spoke to the players about how we need to try to win the ball higher and then play it with more composure,” said Southgate before kick-off. But he also said: “We can talk as much as we want, we also have to do it.”

That was exactly the problem again. There was too little movement in their game, and Jude Bellingham also failed to provide any impetus for a long time. When things did pick up speed, it immediately became dangerous. Kieran Trippier brought the ball sharply into the middle from the edge of the penalty area with a lot of spin. Goalkeeper Jan Oblak hesitated for a moment, but Harry Kane slipped past the ball (40′).

Shortly afterwards, the sun set behind the arena in Cologne. And as it got darker outside and the players returned to the pitch for the second half, Southgate reacted to his team’s tired performance and brought on Kobbie Mainoo for Gallagher. The Manchester United man, just 19 years old, is considered one of the discoveries of the past Premier League season. Many experts had already expected him in the previous games. With Mainoo in the center, the tempo of the English attack was suddenly completely different. Mainoo often played the ball with the first touch, he won many balls in midfield and was thus repeatedly the starting point of the attacks.

Striker Benjamin Sesko saved his team from conceding twice after a corner kick when he stood at the post and cleared the ball (58′). The Slovenians were almost hopelessly chasing the ball and the opponent during this phase, and only got a little calm in the game when Oblak laid the ball down for a goal kick. It seemed only a matter of time before England would tear a gap in the Slovenian defense and take the lead.

But as suddenly as the pressure from the English had increased after the break, it disappeared again – the English attacks were too imprecise, and Kane rarely got behind the Slovenians’ last line. Southgate took Saka off the field and brought on Cole Palmer (71′), who had scored 22 goals for Chelsea this season. England had more possession of the ball, continued to rarely let the Slovenians out of their half – and still didn’t manage to get any dangerous shots on goal.

What remains? Despite only one and a half good halves against Serbia and Slovenia, England qualified for the knockout phase as group winners. The defense, with only one goal conceded in three games, is the team’s showpiece, but the attack continues to puzzle not only Southgate.

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