What we've learnt about England so far

Max Cooper
Southgate celebrating
Southgate celebrating / Frank Augstein - Pool/Getty Images

Four games, four clean sheets, and three wins later, England are in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

Gareth Southgate's men played with the heart of Three Lions, but the cunning of three foxes against Germany, frustrating the Wembley visitors and then killing them off with two late goals.

Of course, there were moments that dropped in England's favour, but it was the luck that this group of players deserved on a fantastic Tuesday evening in London. While supporters will continue to bask in the glory of a victory over a major nation in the knockout rounds of an international competition, the players will be turning their attention towards Saturday night in Rome.

England travel to the Italian capital to take on Ukraine in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, with the tantalising prospect of a return to Wembley for a semi-final tie against Denmark or Czech Republic at stake - providing they get the job done at Stadio Olimpico, that is.

So, what have we learnt thus far about this current England side, and have they shown us enough to suggest they can go all the way?

1. Southgate deserves supporters' trust

"If I pick that team and we don't win, I'm dead."

The fact that Southgate is aware of the backlash his every decision receives, tells you just how harshly critiqued his quietly impressive work is.

For many, who just won't accept that he's got England on the right path, he is a boring dinosaur or an FA 'Yes Man', and they refuse to hear anything different.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but Southgate is the opposite of a 'Yes Man' - because he refuses to bend to the will of the media and online haters who demand for attacking, free-flowing football.

Southgate is going to do it his way, and so far, that way is a winning way. So it's time we start listening to the man in charge. He has a plan, and he knows best.

2. Cautious is the new sexy

While this tournament has been full of goals and drama, most of those talking points have come in games excluding England. The Three Lions have scored only four goals in four matches, and there has been a lack of creativity over the 360 minutes.

Guess what, though? England are still in the tournament, and remain the only team not to have conceded a goal thus far. The 'cautious' approach (including three flying forwards and two wing-backs) suited England down to the ground against Germany, and they've been equally as solid with a back four.

England have risen just above the level of their rivals in every match, finding a way to grind out the win without exerting too much energy. It may not be pretty, but if that was your first thought when the final whistle blew on Tuesday, maybe football isn't the sport for you.

3. Defensive solidity not to be sniffed at

We've got to revisit that defensive solidity. Not enough has been made of the four clean sheets England have secured in four matches, as well as the lack of chances they've given away.

Thomas Muller's shocking one-on-one miss aside, this has been as miserly as we've seen any international team, and when they're so tight and well protected, it's hard to see them shipping any goals.

If you don't concede, you don't lose, and that desire to restrict opponents and pinch games by a single goal or two should be applauded.

4. This group is flexible

What was particularly impressive about England's 2-0 victory over Germany was just how quickly they adapted to the change in system. Southgate has moved away from the five at the back of late, and when he has played around with it, the Three Lions have never really dazzled.

So it was a big call to adopt that strategy for a knockout match with one of Europe's giants, but the players did him proud. Kyle Walker starred on the right side of a back three, while Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw marshalled the flanks expertly.

Germany's main threat in the group stages came from the left wing, and principally Robin Gosens, but the Atalanta man didn't have a sniff against the ruthless defensive work of Trippier.

That move to work under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid has done him the world of good.

5. Harry Maguire's return is key

Although England kept two clean sheets in Harry Maguire's absence over the first pair of group stage fixtures, they've looked far more assured since his return to the defence.

The Manchester United captain is an excellent defender, and he showed it in his Star of the Match performance against Germany at Wembley. His reading of the game was exceptional, his magnetic attraction to high balls into the box was uncanny, and his authority brought a genuine calm among his teammates.

The biggest difference has come in his ability on the ball, though. In Maguire, England boast almost a third central midfielder when they play two in the middle, as he is able to bring the ball out of defence with such ease.

His passing range is exquisite, and his physical strength allows him to charge into the centre of the pitch and drive England forward. That is a priceless skill to boast in your team, and one that the Three Lions can't afford to lose later in the tournament.

6. Faith repaid

Southgate deserves credit for bringing Maguire back into the fold at the right time, but he should also be praised for his handling of Jordan Pickford and Raheem Sterling.

Many would have preferred to see Nick Pope start between the sticks this summer, while Sterling has been a lightning rod for criticism ever since his failure to score at World Cup 2018.

The England boss has kept faith in both stars, and he and the nation are now reaping the rewards. Pickford is yet to be beaten, and has made enormous saves at key moments in at least two matches.

Sterling, on the other hand, was the only player to have scored for the Three Lions until Harry Kane broke his duck 86 minutes into the fourth match of the campaign. Enough said.

7. The nation (rightly) loves Jack Grealish

One of the hottest topics of the summer has been the inclusion of (or lack of) Jack Grealish in the starting lineup. The Aston Villa star is the most creative force in this England squad, and the reception he received when stepping off the bench against Germany told you everything you need to know.

The country loves him - and so do his teammates. His arrival gave everyone around him an enormous lift. Shaw was able to overlap more effectively down the outside, and Kane received some genuine service, from which he killed the game.

Ultimately, Southgate played his cards to perfection, bringing on Grealish to impact the game, and that he did. But when he gives the crowd and his colleagues so much of a boost, it's hard to see him being left out against Ukraine on Saturday.

Lead us to glory, Jacky!

8. A goal for all of England

Finally, a special word for the captain. Kane has struggled to get into games for England this summer, and many thought he should have been substituted against Germany.

The Tottenham Hotspur man kept plugging away though, and got his reward. That neat header booked England's place in the final eight, and gave him an all-important confidence booster to take to Rome.

When Kane starts scoring, he finds it difficult to stop. Let's hope he's about to explode in the next three matches.