Euro 2024: A negative approach hampering England, feels former player Michael Owen

England is again under scrutiny for underperforming with a star-studded line-up despite qualifying for the Euro 2024 knockouts.

Published : Jun 25, 2024 11:33 IST , Chennai - 5 MINS READ

England manager Gareth Southgate has endured criticism for his tactics in the ongoing European Championships.
England manager Gareth Southgate has endured criticism for his tactics in the ongoing European Championships. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

England manager Gareth Southgate has endured criticism for his tactics in the ongoing European Championships. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

It has been 58 years since the English men’s football team won a trophy. Yet, a certain aura encircles the Three Lions ahead of every major tournament.

Love them or hate them, it is difficult to ignore England. 

The narrative has not been different during the 2024 European Championships. Fresh hopes were pinned on Gareth Southgate and his talented bunch. Being placed in a relatively easy group along with Denmark, Slovenia and Serbia, England was expected to cruise. 

However, two matches in, the road in Germany has been bumpy, and glaring loopholes need to be addressed before the knockouts.

Southgate’s men have confirmed a Round of 16 berth. However, after a 1-0 win against Serbia and a 1-1 draw against Denmark, England is again under scrutiny for underperforming with a star-studded line-up. 

The chaos in the middle of the park

“We don’t have a natural replacement for Kalvin Phillips” - that was Southgate’s justification towards opting to play Trent Alexander-Arnold as a holding midfielder alongside Declan Rice. With Alexander-Arnold defensive capabilities always in question, Southgate’s experiment has not been well-received, and from the looks of it, it is failing. 

“He has always wanted to play two holding midfielders. I don’t understand why we should be doing that. Kalvin Phillips played beside Declan Rice all these years. Phillips is not in the right form. So, we have been searching for somebody else. Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton were included in the squad. Now, Alexander-Arnold is playing as a defensive midfielder,” former England international Michael Owen told  Sportstar in an exclusive virtual interaction.

“I would have picked Declan Rice on his own and two players in front of him - Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham. But I knew going into this tournament, that’s not what Southgate would do. He would always want to play two players in there [as holding midfielders] and only one ahead,” Owen added. 

One of England’s glaring problems has been its lack of penetration. Till now, it has 1014 passes completed in total - only 54 of them have been in a key attacking area, just 79 passes have made it to the final third and a mere 14 passes inside the opposition penalty area. 

Also, its tendency to sit back after scoring a goal has not helped justify England’s talent across the pitch.

Lateral passing has been one of the biggest banes for the English, and Southgate’s intention to use Alexander-Arnold’s vision as a holding midfield has failed. 

There have also been arguments that if using Trent’s vision and passing ability is the intention, he would serve better on the right flank. But directly challenging Alexander-Arnold there is Bukayo Saka, who, given his current form, cannot afford to be dropped.

Also, Kyle Walker’s solid presence at the right-back position creates a separate argument about whether Alexander-Arnold should start or be used judiciously from the bench. 

READ | England stays top of Group C despite 1-1 draw against Denmark

Southgate’s rigidity in using two holding midfielders is forcing other players to play out of position, while in-form talents are warming the bench.

“We have to see [Phil] Foden out of position or [Cole] Palmer on the bench. We can get more attacking players in the team by playing just Declan Rice as the holding midfielder. I think we should not be so negative and play more attacking players,” Owen said when asked to comment on England’s attacking woes. 

While Owen feels that there might be a change in personnel, he doubts whether Southgate will tinker with formations for his last group match against Slovenia.

The pressure to win

Owen was part of the ‘Golden Generation, which boasted star players in every position. Now, England finds itself at a similar juncture with a team that boasts of young talent and has the perfect blend of experience needed in big tournaments. 

Talking about breaking England’s trophy jinx (last winning the World Cup in 1966), Owen, once his country’s youngest goalscorer says England has to deal with the pressure of expectations. While that is similar to every other team, Owen feels it works differently for the Three Lions. 

“We have won a World Cup, and we compete in the final stages of big competitions, and hopefully, we will win one, don’t get me wrong. However, I think there is a conception that England should be winning every tournament they play in, and I think it is just not true. We have got a good team, but it is not so good that it deserves to dominate world football or blow everyone away.

“People talk about our golden generation - when we got knocked out by the eventual winner Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, they had Cafu as their right-back and Roberto Carlos as their left-back. Their three attackers were Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. What about Spain during their Golden Generation? It was incredible. We are not the only good team in the world.”

“So, if England doesn’t win the Euros, I don’t think we should say things like ‘Oh, we’ve got another failed golden generation. We wait for the next European Championship or World Cup. These tournaments do not happen every year,” Owen said.

Where to watch England’s next match against Slovenia?

England’s next match against Slovenia on June 26, 12:30 IST and all other Euro 2024 matches will be telecast live on the Sony Sports Network. 

Viewers can live-stream Euro 2024 on the Sony LIV app and website. 

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