Gareth Southgate's risk-averse approach is bleeding into England performances

Mitch Wilks
Southgate watches on as his side stutter
Southgate watches on as his side stutter / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages
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Having smashed six goals past a side that were destined to be defensively stubborn in matchday one and seen the outpours of excitement on social media ahead of a mammoth clash with those from across the pond, England playing out a bore draw against the United States was inevitable.

Worryingly inevitable, in fact. And not in the pessimistic sense of 'oh well, that was coming' but more in a 'yeah, we know what you're like' sort of manner.

England's 0-0 draw against the USA isn't that bad, in the grand scheme of things. That's four points after two games and leaves them in pole position to top Group B at the World Cup, advancing into the knockouts just as expected.

What is that bad, though, is the fact that the thousands of fans on Twitter showed more bravery and creativity in their pre-match meme generating than Gareth Southgate and his side dared show on the pitch for 90 minutes. That might sound harsh, but it's true - it's damn true, as American hero Kurt Angle would say. We hope you enjoyed the point, Kurt. Good for you.

From the minute England began to horse shoe possession around the USA's well-drilled press inside the opening half an hour, things didn't look good. But, as Southgate does, we must trust that the talent in this side will find a way.

They didn't find a way. And that was clear to see by the half-time whistle, as Gregg Berhalter's side most definitely should've led at the break. Change was needed, but the England manager was again too hesitant to bring it; too afraid to try and dominate the game.


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The USA made England look incredibly laboured and completely bereft of creativity. And they deserve credit for that; Tyler Adams did an excellent job at stifling the Three Lions, taking the ball inside his own half and bringing others into play. Antonee Robinson released his nation down the flank regularly, and Weston McKennie continued his fine vein of form with an inspired display.

An 'inspired display' being the complete opposite of what England could muster up, even after a half-time break that should've injected a lease of life into them. That ultimately comes back to Southgate, whose reluctance to be braver with his decision-making bleeds into his side's performances all too often.

He's not been immune to criticism, has Gareth. And it's quite often been a case of beating him with the same stick, but for good reason. England have a pool of talent that is bursting at the seams with creativity, flair, press resistance and bravery.

And in a game that lacked all of that and then some, Southgate sat and watched on as his side shuffled the ball around the back, headed away USA corners and failed to break beyond their back line.

Christian Pulisic, Kieran Trippier
England didn't have the answers / Brad Smith/ISI Photos/GettyImages

While Mason Mount was chasing shadows, Phil Foden was sat on the bench twiddling his thumbs. While Raheem Sterling was bored of waiting for a ball into the box, Marcus Rashford was staring down the deepest defender and asking for a ball to chase in his head.

We could go on, with the point being that England have plenty of talent and plenty of different ways to approach - and win - games of football. Yet Southgate continues to live inside his comfort zone, in fear of calling on his bench and those he has yet to learn to trust.

When those changes did come - the first being with little over 20 minutes to play - one came in the form of Jordan Henderson. Another of the old guard who offers safety and protection - not the risk and flair this side needs to be associated with in order to dream big and achieve bigger.

But how can he learn to trust a player when he doesn't give them a chance? With the USA playing an aggressive game, making the pitch smaller and shutting down spaces, too many of his regulars struggled. And plenty were sat on the sidelines waiting to be brave and take a chance.

England's tendency to pass sideways all too often and their inability to shut down quickly mirrors Southgate's own limitations; their boss still thinks with the shackles on in terms of substitutions and setup and as a result, so do his players.

It's not a new issue, but it's one that has to be resolved quickly if England want to go deep in Qatar. There are far too many teams in the tournament who will punish them for leaving big spaces and not taking risks against a high line.

We might not be talking about this now with qualification all but secured, but if Southgate's timid approach to changing his side and introducing fresh faces to try and tip the balance doesn't change, then we could well be looking back on this as a reference point following an early exit.

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