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Opinion

England / Newcastle United won this game and this is why they were brilliant

1 month ago
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I was intrigued to read the article by Dale Thompson on The Mag on Sunday (‘Media deception on England is almost as bad as Steve Bruce and Newcastle United’), following the England win over Croatia.

I was arguably even more intrigued to then read what other punters had to say about the article, both in the comments section and on social media.

If you haven’t read the article in question so far, then I suggest you do (go HERE) but in brief, it gave a reaction to the…reaction of the media to the 1-0 victory.

The author stating: ‘I don’t think I have ever seen more desperation to mould a positive ‘good news’ story than what I witnessed today. Honestly, this media deception on England is almost as bad as that with Steve Bruce and Newcastle United.’

The reaction to the article was mixed, some agreeing very much with Dale Thompson’s take on it, whilst others were very much at the opposite end of the spectrum, saying why the doom and gloom after such a brilliant performance and result etc etc.

Well that pretty much sums it up for me.

In this day and age, you apparently aren’t allowed to say a brilliant result but not so brilliant performance, or indeed not so brilliant game / entertainment.

Read almost any match report of almost any match and very rare that there is now proper balanced analysis of what actually happened. Instead, it is nearly always just about who won and then trying to back up that result with ‘facts’ to support it. The idea that you can play badly, sometimes very badly, yet still win in a football match, is something that so many don’t want to acknowledge these days. For me though, it is one of the most glorious things about football. In pretty much every other team sport such as rugby, netball, cricket, basketball or whatever, the more dominant team almost always wins.

In football it isn’t the case, a keeper can have the game of his life and then with one chance at the other end, they win the game.

I don’t want to upset you too much but go back to 4 March 1996, Newcastle United absolutely battered Man Utd, Les Ferdinand alone could and possibly should have had a hat-trick, as NUFC completely dominated, Man U then go up the other end and score through Cantona with pretty much their only threat of the match. We (more mature Newcastle fans) all know what happened that night but nobody else cared. Newcastle United were brilliant that night but the record books say they didn’t win.

Just like the record books say England did win on Sunday, 1-0 against Croatia.

Every win is a brilliant result BUT that doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to analyse the match and come up with a different narrative to the one that all of the media, all of the pundits and its seems, pretty much all of the England fans, want to believe.

With the result meaning everything these days, I honestly think that if England had played exactly the same as they did yesterday, but their keeper had saved Sterling’s effort instead of palming it into his own net AND Croatia had taken one of the few half chances that fell their way, then everybody would have been slaughtering Gareth Southgate for what they had just watched.

I thought Sterling and Phillips did pretty well and Croatia rarely looked like scoring…BUT there again, neither did England!

The Croatia keeper only made one save the entire match, Jordan Pickford made two.

Whatever this match was, it wasn’t brilliant.

Gareth Southgate went very negative with his team selection, seemingly to try and ensure England didn’t concede. In that respect he succeeded, though clearly Croatia are a very limited attacking force these days. However, by going with a couple of defensive midfielders and a negative formation, leaving out Grealish and other more attacking options, Southgate ensured that England created very very little threat of their own.

I would argue, that with Jack Grealish and a more attacking set-up, England would have won by two or three minimum. For me, Southgate put the win in doubt by having been overly and unnecessarily negative.

I have seen a lot of comments about how Croatia are an excellent team and were World Cup finalists in 2018. One of those things is true. I would go as far to say, Croatia might not even get out of the group stage, despite all second place teams and four of the six third placed ones still qualifying. Time will tell.

Croatia did very well to reach the World Cup final in 2018 but it has been a story of decline since then.

They did manage to just about top their Euro 2020 qualifying group but they only won five of eight games and that was in a very weak group of Azerbaijan, Hungary, Slovakia and Wales. Plus, it is almost two years ago since they ended the qualification period in 2019.

Since October 2019, Croatia have only two four of ten international matches and have lost a massive seven of those thirteen. They are nowhere remotely close to that World Cup finalist level of 2018, To be honest, even then they were pretty lucky with the draw, beating the not very good at all hosts Russia in the quarters, then a not brilliant either England in the semis.

Croatia now still rely on Modric as easily their best player. he turns 36 in September. Who are their other threats, players to worry about? In their last ten matches they have only won two games, at home to Slovakia and Georgia, whilst included in their six defeats in that time are losses to Slovenia and Sweden, plus draws against Armenia and Turkey.

The BBC Sport stats showed that England only had the same (50%) possession as Croatia, the same number of shots (eight) as the opposition, whilst as for efforts on target it was two for each team and one corner each.

Interestingly, talking about rewriting history, when England lost 2-1 to Croatia in 2018, after Trippier scored on five minutes, Gareth Southgate’s team only had one other effort on target in the next 115 minutes plus added time. Croatia had twice as many shots (22 v 11), twice as many corners (8 v 4), more possession (46%) and seven efforts on target to England’s two.

Gareth Southgate is so lucky to have so many attacking options these days and yet still goes for such a negative set-up against what I think you will all accept is a very limited Croatia, once they have played Scotland and the Czech Republic. If I am proved wrong then I also look forward to your comments…

However, I 100% think that picking a team from players left behind in England would easily have beaten Croatia, the likes of Vardy, Lingard, Ward-Prowse, Bamford, Ings, Maddison, Ramsdale, Godfrey, Watkins, Dunk and yes, Callum Wilson and Joe Willock as well.

Playing at home, Gareth Southgate stopped Croatia playing on Sunday, he will find it a lot tougher getting England outplaying tougher opposition that lies ahead, starting with a much improved Scotland on Friday night.

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