England: Schoolboy’s own stuff is killing the national team

England have had a wealth of problems in the national side for 20 years. RealSport discuss the biggest.

First of all, it’s important to note that there is no singular problem with national football in this country, rather a multitude of issues, stemming from grassroots football all the way up to the first XI that takes to the hallowed Wembley turf for a World Cup qualifier.

Until every issue is addressed, if they ever are, it will be the same old turgid brand of football that fails to deliver when it really matters.

However, there are such basic errors of judgement in the tactical setups employed by English national team managers that make it impossible to be successful, even if the many other issues are solved.

The hope would be that if the setup is finally up to the standard it should be, the apparent tactically inept coaches would no longer be given the job.

This isn’t meant to be a piece calling for Gareth Southgate’s head. However, some decisions he makes as to how the side is set up puts serious doubts over his suitability for the role and how he seems to be yet another who fails to acknowledge what are often basic, errors.

Struggling to adapt

Against Malta on Friday night, most English fans would have seen the lineup and could predict the way the match would unravel without the need to sit down and watch.

A lack of creativity, lots of sideways football to which the superior players would eventually break the Maltese down. England would make hard work of it, inevitably.

Southgate can be forgiven slightly. With the injured Adam Lallana, England lack a proven, high quality playmaker. They also lack someone who is established and can break the lines from deep. A Paul Scholes if you will.

However, the greatest managers can adapt.

The Chelsea blueprint

For example, Chelsea won the league last season without the use of a real playmaker for the majority of their matches. The 3-4-2-1 provides the creativity, without needing a deep-lying playmaker.

Instead, the job of the two central players is to shore up the midfield and ensure no space is left in behind them and in front of the defence.

England had several players to choose from who could perform this role. A starting XI as below would have been ideally suited to this set up.


It would have shown Southgate can be creative and deal with the flaws in his squad. Better football that was more creative would have been a given due to the system, and suitability of said players in this structure.

There is more to it than putting 11 names down on a piece of paper in a formation you’d like to see them use, but you would hope Southgate could appreciate the strengths and roles each player should perform.

Predictable & uninspiring

Instead, what we got was an uninspiring, almost predictable 4-2-3-1 where there was no creativity. Southgate hoped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling out wide could use their pace to exploit Malta.

However, straight line pace is only beneficial when there is space to exploit and run into. Malta didn’t afford England space and therefore Sterling and Chamberlain were often found wanting.


There is often a feeling watching England play, for several years, that we are witnessing athletes first, footballer’s second.

Southgate is just another England manager who makes questionable decisions in his side’s set up. Sven-Goran Eriksson used to play a Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard duo, despite it proving to be imbalanced time and time again.

So then, despite the national side having a raft of issues from top to bottom, the simple task of employing someone to capably manage the already sinking ship continues to be a problem.

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Harry Brooks


Harry graduated from UAL in Elephant and Castle with a 2:1 BA Hons degree in sports journalism.

He has an NCTJ diploma and also coaches football and teaches PE in schools.

Harry loves to talk football tactics!