Is England boss Southgate under pressure?

Published on: 17 November 2020
Is England boss Southgate under pressure?
Gareth Southgate

The question of whether or not Gareth Southgate is under pressure in his role as England manager might seem harsh given their performance at the 2018 World Cup but there are murmurings of discontent growing with the fan base.

Here we look at why that is and assess whether he has anything to worry about.

A change in system

What they were doing

As touched on, the Three Lions impressed at the 2018 World Cup under the guidance of Southgate as they reached the semi-finals. It was their best tournament finish since 1990.

England based their game around attacking principles; they set up with a back three plus one defence minded midfield player whilst everyone else in the XI possessed a desire to play forwards.

During that World Cup run in Russia, England scored 12 goals with Harry Kane responsible for half of them as he won the golden boot. It meant they were one of the top scoring teams.

It wasn't just a case of taking their chances either because they boasted one of the best average expected goal ratings across the tournament.

England continued their impressive displays in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup to offer hope of a bright future; their 3-2 victory in Spain was a particular highlight.

Things have changed since then though with the Nations League displays leading to concern in many corners of the country.

What they are doing

That attacking intent we mention has been lost since the World Cup. In recent times, Southgate has continued to play a back three but with two holding midfield players. Many fans - and pundits - feel the removal of an additional attacking brain makes the team less dangerous.

Rather than allowing Jordan Henderson to marshal the midfield from deep - as he did in the World Cup - Southgate now pairs him with another deep midfielder. That man is generally Declan Rice whilst there have been instances where a third holding player has been used. A private chat with Southgate might open the lid on why he's opted to take this approach.

The defensive players in his squad aren't too different from 2018 either. Jordan Pickford is still the goalkeeper; the defence during the 2018 World Cup - Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire and John Stones - is still two thirds of what it was with Stones now switched out for one of Connor Coady or Tyrone Mings.

What is different is their form. Walker isn't getting any younger at 30-years-old whilst Maguire and Pickford - two of England's standout heroes from 2018 - have been in calamitous form for their clubs of late.

This could explain the additional defensive body. It's an extra layer of protection. The trouble is, it has come at a cost.

The Nations League

When the groups for the Nations League were revealed England wouldn't have envisaged too many issues having been paired with Belgium, Denmark and Iceland. Today though, there is one game remaining and England cannot progress.

It is, however, the lack of attacking threat that causes concern rather than the failure in the Nations League, which is almost viewed as a friendly competition.

In the five games played so far, the Three Lions have netted just three goals. They needed a last minute penalty to edge past Iceland despite holding 78% of possession whilst they've failed to score against Denmark on two occasions.

A 2-1 win over Belgium is the definite highlight but even that match saw another penalty meaning they've scored just one goal from open play.

As you've started to see at club level in recent years, style of play is becoming so important to fans. England have looked fairly sound defensively but with the attacking talents of Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jason Sancho should Southgate be getting more from them? Should his team be taking the game to the opposition rather than worrying about whether or not the back door is left open?

I'm not here to judge but it's becoming clear that the average England fan harbours concern that he might not be the man for the job.

Is Southgate's job actually at risk?

In the eyes of the Football Association, absolutely not. He has substantial credit in the bank after Russia 2018 whilst he has blooded a lot of youth during his time in charge. These are big ticks as far as the FA are concerned.

The betting odds suggest the former defender will be the man leading England at the delayed Euro 2020 tournament next summer barring a miracle. That said, anything other than a run deep into the latter stages of the Euros will likely see him moving on.

However, it’s still too early to predict the Euros and guessing a winner now would be like guessing a winner in TwinSpires Kentucky Derby. Injuries and season form will take influence in what the final squad will be. Still, based on recent showings, England have lots of work to do.