England exited the World Cup at the semi-final stage on Wednesday night after a 2-1 extra-time defeat against Croatia. It was the end of an extraordinary journey for Gareth Southgate’s team.
The Three Lions went further than anybody expected them to in Russia. They also scored the highest tally of goals scored at a World Cup finals tournament, scoring one more goal than scored in 1966 when they lifted the trophy on home soil.
Goals from set pieces
England may have scored 12 goals in Russia, but nine of those have been from set pieces. In fact, the Three Lions broke the record for the number of set piece goals scored at a World Cup, which they jointly held with Portugal from 1966.
Gareth Southgate’s team were a big threat at dead ball situations, whether that was from free kicks or corner kicks. They were superbly drilled and knew exactly what they were doing at dead ball situations.
Lack of creativity in open play
However, for me, the lack of creativity in midfield showed in some games, especially the second half of the Croatia game. England struggled to get hold of the ball in the second period to create chances from open play.
When they did have the ball, the players were highly ineffectual with it against an intelligent and experienced Croatia team. Everybody recognised the lack of creativity in that England midfield. Southgate worked around it by the way he set up his team, with wing-backs Ashley young and Kieran Trippier pushing forward in an attempt to unlock defences.
England has quality finishers in the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but they were feeding off scraps for much of the tournament. The pair are prolific for club side Tottenham at club level.
However, in that team, they have the creative force that is Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen. There is very little creativity and vision in England’s midfield area.
They are decent, honest players, but they do have the same abilities as an Eriksen or even a Luka Modric in the engine room.
England need to continue progression
This summer’s World Cup has made England fans hope and dream once more. There were little expectations when it comes to the Three Lions at Russia 2018, so reaching the semi-finals was a big achievement, especially such an inexperienced team.
England still has to face Belgium in the third-fourth place play-off on Saturday. After that, attention is likely to turn to the qualifiers for Euro 2020.
Southgate has revived the England team, and new heroes have emerged. However, the England boss will know that this is likely just the start for him as Three Lions boss.
The former Middlesbrough boss has given the team an identity and restored pride in the England national team. He will know that the team is not the finished article.
In Euro 2020 qualifiers, England needs to have more than just set pieces in their attacking armoury. I hope that a creative midfielder emerges from somewhere, as that is one of the major pieces missing from the positive jigsaw that is England at the minute.
Can Gareth Southgate continue the positive trend beyond World Cup 2018?