England boss Gareth Southgate is in a privileged position of having a deep pool of young talent at his disposal as he prepares for the World Cup – and has been urged to not hold back.
Southgate will lead the Three Lions in their latest an assault at glory this winter at Qatar 2022, having reached the latter stages in successive tournaments with a semi-final defeat to Croatia at the 2018 World Cup and an agonising penalty shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
In any other era, Southgate would have the freedom of the country but as England’s fortunes have changed, so have the expectations.
Sir Bobby Robson was – and deservedly so – revered for his semi-final exploits at Italia ‘90. The same can be said of Terry Venables in the nostalgic summer of Euro ’96, but for either coach there was no follow-up.
This time, Southgate has broken through the glass ceiling, twice, and is expected to guide the Three Lions deep into the final stages in Qatar later this year.
Southgate has his supporters but also a fair number of detractors.
Like most England managers, criticism comes by way of selection choices. Who is most deserving? Who is and isn’t in form? Who is getting picked purely on reputation?
Southgate has rarely got it wrong when it mattered most during his tenure but his next step is to get England over the line in a major tournament – the step nobody has been able to take for 56 years.
England face Italy at Molineux on Saturday evening – LIVE on talkSPORT – in a repeat of the Euro 2020 final, giving Southgate the opportunity to sample some different options with only one more international window before departing for the Gulf state in November.
With an embarrassment of riches at hand, and following a shock 1-0 defeat to Hungary followed by a 1-1 draw with Germany, Southgate has been urged to use Saturday night’s clash as one to throw caution to the wind and be more adventurous – even if that means dropping one or two of his tried and trusted stars.
Tammy Abraham is coming off the back of a stunning season in Italy where he scored 27 goals for Roma, and yet did feature in either game, while fans have pleaded for Grealish to start after two bright substitute appearances.
Alan Brazil gave his thoughts on talkSPORT Breakfast and would like to see a more gung ho style adopted by the England manager.
“I’d like to personally see a little more adventure,” Brazil said.
“I’d love to see that midfield of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Declan Rice.
“Harry Kane up there and maybe Mason Mount sparking off Harry Kane.
“I think England have more chance of taking teams apart with a line up like that than being cautious and perhaps win something.”
But Southgate’s reluctance to operate without a core of this squad might be too much to ask at this stage.
West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen was the only player of the 14 involved in England’s draw against Germany in Munich on Tuesday that wasn’t involved in the Euro 2020 final 12 months ago.
Seven of the starters against the Germans in Munich were also in the line-up that lost to Croatia in the World Cup semi-final in 2018.
Southgate was quizzed this week on the topic of loyalty to a specific crop of players and denied it was even a thing within his squad.
“No, We’re totally open-minded,” Southgate said. “Bukayo Saka came out of the pack and we didn’t hesitate putting Jude Bellingham into the fray, which was an incredible experience for him.
“But to win big matches there’s a huge amount of qualities that are needed. It’s not just about talent. You’ve got to have knowhow and awareness.
“They tested us tactically without the ball to such a high level, with the movement and runs they made, the techniques, so the reading of the game and communication on the pitch is vital.
“That group of players have played together a lot and on those nights it’s vital.
“Of course we want to try to develop others and bring that competition and to give them the similar sorts of experiences, which indirectly Jude ended up getting. But that’s a process.”
That being said, is it time for Southgate to really see what his Three Lions can do, and put right went wrong in the Euros final, when they face Italy again?
Alternative England XI to face Italy:
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