Long standing English arrogance takes hit
For so long, despite a series of setbacks, Britannia will always rule the waves in the football stratosphere for many of us islanders.
Whether it is the sense of schadenfreude many get seeing Pep Guardiola failing to take our unconquerable “best league in the world” by storm, or bringing up the “could he cut it on a wet Wednesday night in Stoke” argument when discussing the credentials of the next exotic superstar talent, the imperialist English arrogance has proven difficult to shake off.
That feeling of superiority took a huge hit in the summer, however, as Iceland, with a population less than that of the borough of Croydon embarrassed football’s (alleged) inventors, before the Sam Allardyce debacle became the current set-up’s nadir.
Such a humiliating year has changed the attitude towards the national team. Now, there is a more melancholic, apathetic outlook when it comes to England – the expectation levels are so low that many fans have simply given up.
However, the showing in defeat in Dortmund on Wednesday night may have awoken a few from their slumber. Fans will have made the journey home disappointed after a 15th loss against the old enemy, but Germany will know that they got away with it in the Ruhr.
New system seemed to suit England
England were vibrant, had an interchangeable front three that caused all sorts of problems to a strong German rearguard, all while looking comfortable in a 3-4-3 system that veered from the tradition 4-4-2, or more recently 4-2-3-1.
The solid defensive base frustrated Germany, who didn’t really pose much of a threat until Lukas Podolski’s stunning goal, while the array of different facets in midfield gave England a balanced look to them.
“The most pleasing thing is that we tried a new tactical system and the players carried it out really well,” Gareth Southgate said post-match. “It suited the players we had and it suited the opposition we were playing against. We don’t like losing but it’s important in games like these to learn something and try new things.”
Profligacy in front of goal ultimately cost England, but how did a team who only had one training session together prior to the friendly gel so well, look so threatening and remain relatively untroubled on the night? The answer may lie in this change of attitude, and brave squad ommissions from Southgate.
It has been the same old story for much of the younger generation of England fans. Since Euro 96, the Three Lions have often qualified for tournaments strongly, before flunking when it really mattered.
Star names doesn’t guarantee success
Expectation has been high due to this ‘Golden Generation’ who have never really fulfilled their potential. From David Beckham to Steven Gerrard to Wayne Rooney, England sides of the last 20 years have had a superstar name for fans to pin that hope upon.
Rooney is still around, but his stock is on the wane, and his exclusion from this latest squad is telling – this is an average England side, without that standout, headline-making name, but one that possesses enough talent to cause the very best problems.
Many a coach has been unable to accommodate these top stars into their system; how do you fit Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard in the same team? Well stick one out left, of course.
Southgate doesn’t have that conundrum, not by any stretch. No player has an automatic right to a starting berth, which leaves the rookie coach free to work the players into a desired system.
3-4-3 might not be the weapon of choice forever, but as Southgate eluded to, he is free to try. As is often the case with England, disappointment may not be too far around the corner, but with such freedom to mould this current, youthful crop into something resembling a cohesive unit, more teams could be given a scare like the Germans were soon enough.