Just a month or so ago, England were one of the joint-favourites to win the World Cup, Gareth Southgate’s team was bubbling along nicely and after reaching the World Cup Semi Finals in 2018 and the European Championship Final for the first time ever in 2020, things looked very much in shape for a tilt at the World Cup this winter.

However, somewhat unexpectedly, the wheels have come off the wagon as over their first four games in the Nations League, England have failed to score a goal from open play, been unable to muster a victory and suffered their heaviest loss at home since the 1920s.

That awful run of results leaves them at the bottom of their Nations League group and while that will not be off too great a concern to the FA or England fans, the lack of cohesion, creativity and cutting edge in the team, with just two more games to play before the World Cup Finals begin in November, will most certainly be.

With Bet365 Sportsbook, England have drifted out to 11/2 to win the World Cup this summer, France have drifted further out to 6/1, with Brazil now the 9/2 sole favourites to win the tournament.

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So what is the problem for England? How can Gareth Southgate and his team address it and just how bad is the Three Lions current run of form?

Let’s take a closer look to find out.

England Recent Results

Nations League

  • Matchday 1 – v Hungary (A) – L 0-1
  • Matchday 2 – v Germany (A) – D 1-1 (Kane 88p)
  • Matchday 3 – v Italy (H) – D 0-0
  • Matchday 4 – v Hungary (H) – L 0-4

A defeat in Hungary was a disappointment but not an unfair result given how poorly England played in that game.

Against Germany, they played a bit better but ultimately were reliant on a controversial 88th minute penalty kick awarded by VAR in order to give Harry Kane the chance to convert, which he did for his 50th goal for England.

A few days later, England created more opportunities in the game against an under-strength and young Italian side, but missed those chances and in truth, Italy had chances of their own to win the game too.

However, a win against Hungary at home on Matchday 4 could put England back in the running in the group, only for the Three Lions to produce one of their worst performances in living memory as a well-organised and disciplined Hungary scored four goals without reply and England also had the ignominy of finishing with 10-men after John Stones was sent off.

In rare scenes in recent times, England left the field to loud boos from the home support at Molineux who were bitterly disappointed at how the home side had performed and England now have a huge fight on their hands to avoid relegation into League B for the next iteration of the Nations League tournament.

Has This Been Coming?

While the current run of form is surprising for many that have followed Gareth Southgate’s largely successful reign as manager, compared to previous England bosses, there have been clear indications that this England team has become a little too predictable, defensive and lacks a cutting edge against well-drilled teams.

It is worth remembering that in the World Cup of 2018, the Three Lions were beaten three times. Once by Belgium in the Group Stage, then by Croatia in the  semifinal and again by Belgium in the third place match.

In all those games, England were summarily outplayed by an organised and disciplined team and they struggled to create any meaningful chances.

Then in the Euro 2020 tournament, England were held 0-0 by Scotland and struggled to create chances in their other group games, 1-0 wins against Croatia and the Czech Republic.

In both those games England’s scorer was Raheem Sterling, and he and Harry Kane were on target when England beat Germany in the Round of 16. Kane netted twice in the 4-0 win over Ukraine in the quarterfinals, while an own goal and Kane scored for England against Denmark in the semis.

What is clear is that when England play well they can create chances, but as the tournament wears on and the quality of teams improve, England struggle to do that against the best. They’ve come unstuck against Croatia and Italy most notably in the last two Major tournaments, games which they could have won.

England are also too reliant on Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling for goals. However, with a young Bukayo Saka usually the only other offensive player in the team for some games, with Gareth Southgate opting to play eight more defensive minded players, it’s little wonder that goals for others are so scarce.

Frustratingly for England fans, it is not as if they lack talent. The likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish are not only very creative, but can also score plenty of goals.

Tammy Abraham has got plenty of goals for AS Roma this season, as has Jarrod Bowen for West Ham, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho have been cast aside by Southgate after poor season’s for Manchester United, but Harry Maguire, who has been playing as poor, if not worse, than both the other England men at United, remains in the squad and, perplexingly, in the team.

England have been so desperate to make themselves tough to beat under Southgate and they have enjoyed relative success with that, that they have ceased to evolve as a team, and now, as is always the case in football, the weaknesses of Southgate;s tactics have been found out and, as Hungary showed, can be ruthlessly exploited.

Teams now know England’s lack of creativity means that they can crowd out their attacking threats in and around the box and with the full backs providing limited width (especially when you have Kyle Walker at right back and a player playing out of position at left back) England have nowhere to go with the ball and ate smothered by opponents, who can then hit England on the break.

England now have just two games to put it right before the World Cup starts next November, against Italy and Germany in the final two rounds of the Nations League and those two games are now vital as England begin their preparations in earnest for Qatar.

What Should Southgate Do To Resolve This?

We have seen the England manager chopping and changing formations of late to try and get a tactical advantage over certain teams but that has met with limited success and has more often hindered rather than helped England.

As such, I think Southgate needs to go back to some of England’s better performances in recent times and trust that system and then find the players to play it, with more of an emphasis on creativity than solidity.

For me, that means playing the 4-2-3-1 formation that worked well in Euro 2020, especially against the Ukraine, although I would still make a number of changes to the team in that regard.

  • I am not sold on Pickford or Ramsdale in goal. I believe Nick Pope is the best English goalkeeper at the moment and were he playing for a team other than Burnley, he’d likely be the first choice. I’d have him in between the sticks.
  • Our ‘powerful’ centre backs have always been lauded but Maguire is a liability at the moment and John Stones always seems likely to give something away. Given that most teams are likely to play with just one attacker up the middle in the World Cup, I’d actually slot Declan Rice into a central defensive role alongside a traditional centre back. Rice is an outstanding player who can bring the ball out of defence, while having the physical traits to be able to defend well.
  • Trent Alexander Arnold has to play at right back. He is the best right back in the world, and the best full back in the world. He is also arguably England’s best crosser of a ball since David Beckham and is a massively important player when going forward. Kyle Walker is better defensively, but his lack of skill as an attacker means it limits England on the flank.
  • We must play with a natural left back. Ben Chilwell or Luke Shaw seem to be the only options, but either is better than playing Reece James or Kieran Trippier out of position.
  • Drop Mason Mount into midfield alongside Kalvin Phillips, and then play a front four of Kane in attack with Sterling on one wing, Foden on the other and Grealish playing in a freer role behind Kane. Give the Man City trio opportunity to float around, as they do for their club side, to bring the best out of them.

I admit, this England team may concede more goals, but I am also willing to bet with the attacking and creative players that are in it, they’d score a hell of a lot more too.

With two games to go before the World Cup, surely something like this has to be worth a try?