Boring England suffer again but one solution can salvage Euro 2024 bid

Boring England suffer again but one solution can salvage Euro 2024 bid

Declan Rice had said before this game that it might only take one match to transform England’s tournament and that might now be true… although not because of anything Gareth Southgate’s side actually did. They again didn’t do much at all. They still somehow find themselves on the more forgiving side of the Euro 2024 draw due to results elsewhere. Southgate won’t have to worry about any of Germany, Spain, Portugal or France until the final… if they make it that far.

That is why that run can be a negative, too. Such an opportunity potentially brings more pressure, for a team that barely look like beating anybody right now.

They toiled against a defiant and now qualified Slovenia for a 0-0. That it followed the chaos of Group D, which means England may now play Netherlands in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday, only made it all the more pronounced. They look one of the most boring teams in a tournament that has generally been so entertaining, having only scored two goals in three games.

The “performance” didn’t come. The solutions didn’t come. It still looked like Southgate has a team and a squad he doesn’t fully have a grasp of.

As to what he can do, well, changing one player in midfield is just one issue rather than the move he seems so fixated on. Kobbie Mainoo was at least better, giving England their most extended spell of possession in the team. It just didn’t produce much because the attack isn’t properly linked. Too many players want to occupy the same space. Harry Kane looks more leaden than we’ve ever seen him in an England shirt, like he’s slowing everything down. It’s not like much of the rest of the team is racing ahead, though.

That might point to the one thing the England squad can keep telling themselves. They can grind their way through this tournament, in the same way Portugal did in Euro 2016. Southgate and his staff have based so much of their approach on research of that team and France 2018.

That can’t be ruled out. The tournament has recent history of making criticism of one team look foolish.

At the same time, however, nobody is going to fear playing England. They are the big team on that side of the draw, but only by reputation rather than performance.

That was the other side of this game.

Midfielder Declan Rice played 90 minutes against Slovenia (PA)

Slovenia did fancy this. They only needed a draw, and got it to historically make the knockout stages for the first time in their history, but were willing to give much more. That could be seen with the way they were going in for 50-50s. It was like they weren’t just important interventions but moments of national truth. It resulted in Petar Stojanović embarrassing Kieran Trippier, first by going through him in a 50-50 that became a 0-100, and then beating him moments later. There was for a long time more life about Slovenia when breaking, although in that way that comes from one side being prepared to wait because they weren’t under the same pressure.

Zan Karnicnik almost got around that side again. It was conspicuous how often issues arose down England’s left, which again made it all the more striking that Southgate seems so fixated on one single position. England have more issues than whoever plays in midfield alongside Declan Rice.

It should be acknowledged that the introduction of Mainoo did herald England’s best spell of control, when they started to really pen Slovenia back.

Phil Foden was England’s most lively player (Getty)

Before then, it was galling how little connection there was in most of the team. Some of it stemmed from one of the midfielders just not getting on the ball, although it would be unfair to blame Conor Gallagher for being put into a team that didn’t really work. Kane again looked like he just couldn’t move at the same pace as we’re used to seeing. When given one ball in the centre of the pitch, he was so slow to react he had to clumsily adjust his feet. Phil Foden, who was England’s most lively player, twice tried to feed Kane sharp balls that the striker just couldn’t reach.

It didn’t look like it was due to the quality of the pass. Foden was so assertive that he couldn’t help but come further inside, which begged the question as to why Southgate doesn’t just start him there.

Jude Bellingham had another game where he was so often out of place. Too many players were dropping into the same space, and only one of them was really creating.

Mainoo helped ensure England did get what felt like a proper period of control. While that did become nervy for Slovenia, they dug in with dogged tackles.

Kobbie Mainoo gave England their most extended spell of possession (PA)

England were better in attack but needed more pace, width and creativity… in other words, well, the lot.

In contrast to how he took off the entire frontline against Denmark, Southgate looked to solve this one in instalments. Cole Palmer was first – finally – introduced, to raucous cheers. He was at the end of England’s first sleek move of the match, as Mainoo and Kane genuinely linked up well. The shot was tame. England needed more thrust.

Anthony Gordon had at least come on with two minutes of normal time left, but it wasn’t much time to make an impact. It all felt so “hit and hope”, without England even having a proper shot on target. Typically, one Rice burst was much further wide than it looked.

Kane and Trippier after the final whistle (Getty)

This tournament at the moment comes into perspective.

England will see a more forgiving run to the final, but everyone else will see a big team that can be beaten.

That was because there was no other perspective on the actual performance.

Boos could be heard again. The same qualifications will be heard again. Southgate has a lot to think about. Solutions are required.

England need so much more than one match, one change. They need an intervention.