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Opinion

Gareth Southgate and England very similar to Rafa Benitez and Newcastle in Championship

2 weeks ago
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Gareth Southgate and his England team take on Ukraine tonight.

At 8pm in Rome, the English footballing public anticipating a march into the semi-finals of the Euro 2020 finals.

Unbeaten so far with three wins and a draw, no goals conceded, surely pretty near perfection?

Well, yes and no.

The journey of England under the direction of Gareth Southgate has to me, been very similar to that of Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United in the 2016/17 Championship season.

Looking back at that promotion season, the bare facts / stats are difficult to argue with.

Newcastle promoted in 2016/17 as champions, having accumulated more points (94), more wins (29) and more goals (85) than any of the other 23 clubs.

I don’t think Rafa Benitez deserves any criticism whatsoever for that season as I agree it was a means to an end and Newcastle never looked in any danger of failing to get promotion….BUT, I do think that NUFC could have won even more games, scored more goals, got more points and gone up in a lot more style, if the brakes had been taken off a bit.

Newcastle United were far better than any other club but only finished as champions because of Brighton conceding a final day goal to a certain Jack Grealish. Plus despite having a far better team / squad, Rafa Benitez preferred to try and gradually squeeze the life out of the opposition with a steady as you go very deliberate style, not throwing too many players forward and gradually turning the screw.

You look back at the 2009/10 Newcastle United promotion under Chris Hughton and they showed their superiority far more often and accumulated more points (102), more wins (30), more goals (90), going up as champions by 11 points from the runners up, as compared to Rafa’s NUFC who finished top only by a single point.

Hughton’s team also lost six less games (10 v 4) and conceded five less goals (40 v 35) than Rafa’s NUFC promotion team.

Was the Newcastle United promotion team of 2009/10 far superior to that of 2016/17? I don’t think so.

Moving forward to the present day and Gareth Southgate with England.

Very negative set-ups in the four games so far and the victories (and one draw) have been efficient against inferior opposition each time.

I’m not arguing with the results BUT I think that a more attacking format would have seen even more convincing performances and results.

If you scratch beneath the surface, in the four matches England have in total only had 10 efforts on target, whilst in all four matches I have seen the opposition have at least a couple of clear chances in each match.

The win over Germany was probably the most convincing win so far and yet apart from the two goals, England only had two other efforts on target in the 90 minutes. Despite looking a pale imitation of their past glories, this German team still had glorious chances, in particular when Pickford (probably England’s player of the tournament so far!) was lucky to save with his legs in a one on one when the score was goalless, then of course when England were one up, Thomas Muller through on goal and somehow putting it past the post.

If either / both of those chances had gone in, would England have still won? Probably, maybe, maybe not…who knows?

What I think is that when you do have players such as Grealish, Foden and Sancho available, Gareth Southgate should have been playing them. If he had, I think England would have had far more clear shots, scored a lot more goals, whilst the opposition would have had no more chances than they ended up having anywhere.

Tonight we have Ukraine, a very average team who will stick at it and hope to take the one or two chances that will almost certainly come their way.

Time for Gareth Southgate to go on the attack for me, as so far England have carried the luck and not conceded any of those decent chances presented to the opposition, whilst scoring four goals from only ten efforts on target.

England are capable of far better and with a striker like Harry Kane, get on the offensive and get the ball to him, the goals will flow.

Far more chance of succeeding with that approach than the cagey set-up used so far, relying on far too few chances created to get the necessary goals.

Come on England! Attack, attack, attack.

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