England

Statistics show England are heading slowly towards winning formula

Max Cooper
Southgate is sticking to his principles
Southgate is sticking to his principles / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images
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For a country which has just qualified top of its group with seven points from a possible nine and three clean sheets, we are a miserable bunch, aren't we?

It's safe to say, the feel-good vibes that we embraced for a wonderful month in the summer of 2018 have been replaced by the frostiest of cold shoulders only three years later.

Supporters couldn't get enough of Gareth Southgate and his waistcoat at World Cup 2018, despite only picking up six points in the group stages and needing a last-minute goal to edge past Tunisia in the opener.

So, considering boos were heard after the draw with Scotland and social media is still calling the coach 'clueless', why are we all so down in the dumps, heading into the knockout stages of Euro 2020?

Team selection is certainly a key factor. Southgate is blessed with some incredible attacking riches, particularly in the wide areas. The fact is, you cannot please all of the people all of the time, and that's never been truer than when you're forced to bench potentially four of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford or Bukayo Saka.

No matter what you do, you will have to drop someone's favourite player, and they will subsequently think you're an idiot.

Another major cause of frustration is Southgate's desire to be defensive. In terms of his selection, you cannot criticise him for not being brave. Against Scotland, England started with Harry Kane, Sterling, Foden and Mason Mount on the pitch, before bringing on Grealish to try and win the match.

For anyone calling England's boss 'defensive' or 'clueless' in his selections, that's simply not the case. But there is some weight behind the idea that this is a cautious Three Lions side, rather than a brave and ballsy one.

Opta got busy on Wednesday morning, delivering the killer stats which riled up many short-tempered England fans. The first, we probably would have noticed ourselves during the 1-0 victory over Czech Republic on Tuesday evening.

"England managed just one more shot after they scored against Czech Republic - that final attempt came in the 26th minute of the match." Ouch. Those who remained awake during that second half probably clocked that it was a very, very dull 45 minutes of action.

Now, we can look at that in two different lights.

1) OMG, England are so rubbish, they didn't even have a single shot in the second half. S-OUT-hgate.

Or, 2) Wow, England went for it in the first half, tightened up in the second and limited a team chasing the game to only two shots: One in the 84th minute and a hopeful, harmless strike from range in injury time.

It may not be entertaining, but it got the job done - particularly if you compare to the first half, when England were not so rigid and allowed Czech Republic to come dangerously close on a number of occasions. If you offer those types of chances to a better opponent, you will be punished.

So, caution is not sexy, but it's effective.

Next up: "England have progressed the ball upfield 0.98 metres per second in open play at Euro 2020, the lowest figure of any side at the tournament, with last night's figure of 0.7 also a single-game low for any side."

Once again, this enraged Twitter. We're so boring and slow and we have no idea how to attack and I hate Southgate!

But let's try and take a step back. Free-flowing, adventurous football does not win tournaments. I'll stick my neck on the line and say Euro 2020's current top scorers, the Netherlands, won't win the competition.

It's exciting to watch and they trick everyone into thinking they're going all the way, but as soon as they come up against a team which is organised, boasts more balance, a game plan and knows how to dictate the tempo of big matches, they will come unstuck.

Typically, it's the stodgy, well drilled and conservative teams, who also hold a bit of star quality in the final third, that bring football home to their nations. Portugal tried to outplay Greece in 2004 and failed, and ultimately found their success in 2016 by playing like a more talented version of Greece.

So England fans should be thankful that their manager has recognised that, and has managed to convince his players that playing with the handbrake on is winning football.

After all, winning football is happy football.

This transition into becoming hard to beat, contained and professional is almost complete. England have won four matches by a 1-0 scoreline this year, the highest number since 1991. All four of those victories have come in June.

And while Italy's 11 straight clean sheets is the talk of the town, what about England's 'one goal conceded in nine games' statistic? That's come without key centre back Harry Maguire and constant rotation in the full-back area.

That miserly stat shows that although personnel is important, the system itself is key. Southgate can rely on any of his squad to slot in and perform a similar role to the star they are deputising, without the fear of losing a couple of key faces.

Let's cut to the chase. If England don't win Euro 2020, pure and simply it'll be because there are countries who possess better players. In terms of Southgate's tactics however, history dictates that this is the winning path - and he will walk it, no matter how much flak he must shoulder.

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