sport news Gareth Southgate needs finishers who can finish in his England team - not just ... trends now
His star is hardly in the ascendancy right now, but Eddie Jones has always banged on about his finishers. More important than the starters he says, and the room rolls its eyes.
Yet here in Qatar, and engaged in an entirely different sport, Gareth Southgate may be about to put Jones’s theory to the test.
England have a secret weapon here, sat on the bench. In fact, the secret weapon is the bench. A swift look through the teams remaining at this World Cup reveals that, although England may not possess generational talents such as Kylian Mbappe, or the dream narrative driving Lionel Messi, although they do not have the lineage of Brazil or the technical smarts of Spain, what they do boast is a depth that should be the envy of every federation here.
England need to utilise their weath of match-winners ahead of their clash against Senegal
The Three Lions boast one of the best squad depths in Qatar and many teams will envy that
France played their reserves against Tunisia and lost. A scout through reserves at some of the most hotly-tipped nations finds a roll call of Premier League also-rans, including Juan Foyth, Vincent Janssen, Alvaro Morata and Matteo Guendouzi.
That there is a debate over where Phil Foden or Bukayo Saka fit in this England team shows the wealth of talent, the impact potential if unleashed effectively.
Big if. For this is the next step in England’s evolution under Southgate and one he might be running out of time to make. He needs finishers who finish. Not who plug holes, fix leaks, put out fires. He needs a strong England to strengthen more in the areas where they can truly hurt opponents, with impact from this extraordinary bench.
Gareth Southgate needs to be proactive in his decision making rather than reactive in games
Group football is different. A degree of pragmatism has served England well in this competition and previous ones with Southgate in charge. If there is a reason England have just fallen short deep in the knockout stages, it is arguably that not enough has been made of what is up his sleeve.
Against Croatia in 2018, Jamie Vardy only came on once Croatia had taken a 2-1 lead in extra-time and with eight minutes remaining. In the European Championship final with Italy, Bukayo Saka replaced Kieran Trippier three minutes after Italy made it 1-1. It is reactive, not proactive. England led in both games yet seemed reluctant to make front foot changes until initiative was lost.
At this World Cup it could make all the difference. If Saka or Marcus Rashford are flying against Senegal, imagine then also finding room for Phil Foden, strengthening an already strong position? Not just as a lifeline once the tide has turned, but if England are in front.
Imagine introducing Saka against Italy when leading 1-0. What would that have done? Potentially, changed Roberto Mancini’s plans. Then, he would have had to address what England were doing, the fresh attacking threat being posed, rather than being able to dictate the game, as happened.
It does not always have to be an attacking player coming on either. If Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson are controlling midfield, it creates even bigger problems for the opposition for another body to close down that area entirely.
England under Southgate have mastered group stage qualification. They are increasingly confident in the early knock-out rounds. What is eluding them is that finish. The certainty that, when in a commanding position, they can do more than grimly cling on.
Southgate has mastered the group stages but he needs to work on finishing tournaments