England seek chemistry as Denmark hunt revenge in Euro 2024 clash with an edge

England seek chemistry as Denmark hunt revenge in Euro 2024 clash with an edge

Once Gareth Southgate felt his England team understood his instructions for Thursday’s match against Denmark, he then attempted to ensure they also knew what the game meant. The staff went through a session on the mindset of the opposition and “what motivations they might have”. That is something Southgate now insists on for every game, as “it’s an important part of psychologically preparing our team” for the “narrative” of any occasion, but it is more distinctive for this one. Denmark are fired up. Their squad are constantly talking about the penalty that was given for England’s 2-1 victory in the Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley, and want to right that “injustice”.

The scorer Harry Kane is of course still there, but the player who was criticised for apparently diving isn’t. Raheem Sterling is one of three of England’s front six from that game who won’t be playing in Frankfurt, as Southgate attempts to get a new chemistry to blend. It still seemed elusive, on the evidence of the 1-0 win over Serbia. The manager said his staff “have challenged everybody to take that next step” in terms of performance in this game.

It unintentionally echoes the words of Cesc Fabregas on a player who is almost Sterling’s direct replacement in the starting XI. Phil Foden has become the focus of much of the debate after a fairly dour opening team performance. That is because he didn’t stand out in the way he has for Manchester City, where he won the Football Writers’ Player of the Year accolade last season. Fabregas said Foden needed “to take this responsibility to grow”, to “step up”.

While Southgate has received criticism for not putting the playmaker where he can excel, there is a growing feeling within the game that the player is now overly accustomed to the highly defined structure of Pep Guardiola’s City. It is almost the contradiction of a star who looks so free and fluid in his actual play. Foden has been cast as a street footballer but he is actually the ultimate product of the modern academy system, having been at City since he was a child.

Gareth Southgate has work to do in Germany (PA)

Southgate isn’t going to be able to replicate that kind of structure with England, especially not within a week, so there have been arguments that Foden may have to be sacrificed. The idea of building the attack around him has vanished in the wake of Jude Bellingham’s rise, to the point that Foden felt he had to stress how they could play together.

Southgate, however, just isn’t heeding those calls. Foden is virtually certain to start against Denmark, with the team expected to be the same as against Serbia, meaning Trent Alexander-Arnold will also be given another chance.

Southgate even went out of his way to praise the role that Foden did play.

“The first thing to say would be that I thought Phil did an exceptional job for us on Sunday. Other players grabbed the attention, but the way he worked for the team, defended the spaces, real intelligence in how he played. Towards the end of the game, he retained the ball for us in really crucial moments.

“There was a lot going on in the game, a lot tactically to solve. And we were happy with what Phil did.”

Southgate even addressed some of the wider debate around Foden, and whether he is a player who needs to be “unlocked”. It was the subject of another meeting before the game. The staff wanted to help a relatively young squad deal with the level of scrutiny they get even after a win. Debates that rise like that around Foden are part of it.

“There’s going to be a narrative around a player, a couple of players, after every England game. This is a different world to the one you experience at clubs. The players as a collective recognise that now after the last couple of days. We talked with them about it. It’s very rare at their club they’d win a game and experience what they’ve experienced over the last couple of days.

“I have to make sure I can guide them through that, let them understand it and recognise it’s the reality of our world but that we shouldn’t be thrown off track by it. We’re in a good position, we know we want to play better.”

Manchester City defenders John Stones and Kyle Walker during England training (Getty)

Kyle Walker meanwhile defended his City teammate.

“I don’t think one game defines a player. It’s a season or a tournament that defines a player. Especially with Phil coming off the back of the season he had, I don’t think one 90 minutes should be scrutinised as much as I’m being told it is … Phil is a great character, he’s had…I wouldn’t say a difficult path to get here as he’s won a lot of trophies at Manchester City, but he’s had to be patient. This is just another little thing he has to overcome when there is so much pressure on him now after such a great season, that big players have to rise up in big occasions.”

It is hard to disagree. Foden and Bellingham will develop a better understanding the more they play together. The absence of Luke Shaw, however, does mean it might remain staccato for some time.

The Manchester United full-back has become one of England’s most important players, as the only left-footed defender in the squad. Without him, there’s an imbalance in the team that constantly requires compensating. It is a direct reason why the formation can sometimes look ill-fitting.

Southgate said that England are unlikely to see Shaw until the end of next week, which would mean the knockout stages. The left-back is still on an individual training programme, separate from the rest of the squad.

What that knockout stage looks like will be dependent on Thursday’s game in Frankfurt, of course. The 24-team nature of this tournament can mean these games are strange since they lack the same tension. One victory is almost certain to put a team through to the next round as (at least) one of the best third-placed sides. England have that victory, after their 1-0 over Serbia. Denmark don’t, after a tough 1-1 draw against Slovenia.

Their need is greater, as is their emotional edge given how that Euro 2020 semi-final went. England still want to make sure they top the group, though, which victory would all but confirm. Denmark’s highly technical midfield will also offer a valuable test, especially with Christian Eriksen on his own emotional high after offering one of the stories of the tournament. Having suffered cardiac arrest in his last European Championship match, against Iceland in 2021, he then scored against Slovenia.

Phil Foden in England training this week (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

“It was almost written – but it is only written if you have the mentality and the desire to get back and play, and play at the level he has,” Southgate said.

This is the level England’s midfield has to rise to. It is why Gallagher may come on for Alexander-Arnold again, as Southgate hinted in the way he spoke about the Serbia win.

“There was a moment where we weren’t in as much control of the game on Sunday as we would’ve liked, and we felt that was a good moment for Conor Gallagher to come into the game. He did the job.”

Southgate also made a point about his subs in that game.

“Within 30 seconds [Jarrod] Bowen produced a cross that, on another day, makes it 2-0 and there’s a different narrative around the whole performance.”

England can rectify that on Thursday. Denmark want to rectify something else.

Source: independent.co.uk