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England fans hoping for free-flowing attack can expect Gareth Southgate to pull the handbrake again

SAMI MOKBEL: Expect Gareth Southgate to pull the handbrake again… England likely to be tactically cautious during the World Cup after gamble to attack Hungary failed

  • Gareth Southgate admitted England’s 4-0 defeat was a cathartic experience
  • Those hoping Three Lions will change their playstyle will be disappointed
  • His comments after the game suggest he will stick to two defensive midfielders

Those hoping that England’s bleak summer will lead to a change of approach for Gareth Southgate will likely be disappointed.

The stigma of a defensive coach is one that the England manager struggles with. It makes sense that the national team would benefit from Southgate releasing the handbrake a bit, although the decision to adopt a more attacking style against Hungary backfired spectacularly on Tuesday night.

It remains to be seen exactly how Southgate will react to the 4-0 loss at Molineux – a humiliating result that ended a miserable 10 days when England failed to win or score a goal from open play in four Nations League games.

Jude Bellingham is a man many England fans would love to start regularly in midfield

Jude Bellingham is a man many England fans would love to start regularly in midfield

Chelsea's Mason Mount is one of Gareth Southgate's trusted favorites and is a hard worker

Chelsea’s Mason Mount is one of Gareth Southgate’s trusted favorites and is a hard worker

The smart money, though, is that Southgate is doubling down on its ‘safe-not-sorry’ style.

“There is a great desire to see open play, but we saw against Hungary that you have to have the balance of a team right,” Southgate explained. “You have to get those decisions right.

“If you’re at the top of a club and you’ve worked with the players for a long time, maybe you can play a bigger game.

“But even the top teams, they are so good defensively, they are good in transition, the balance of everything is good. So the idea that we can just play a lot of attacking players and rely on talent to win matches is not like it is.

“And, you know, that was a reminder to myself against Hungary in the second half that it’s a gamble. You’re going to take a gamble to try and win the game because it’s important to you. But what happened can happen.’

Some people now distrust stability and somehow see it as a lack of ambition

Gareth Southgate has maintained a conservative approach which has generally served him well

Kalvin Phillips didn't play his best game on Tuesday

Declan Rice is a key figure for England

The midfield duo of Kalvin Phillips (left) and Declan Rice (right) can be seen as negative

All this points to Southgate starting with two midfielders Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips in Qatar, a scenario that will frustrate many who believe the attacking Jude Bellingham should be in the starting line-up.

It means Southgate probably prefers Kyle Walker’s physique and experience to Trent Alexander-Arnold – Europe’s best forward full-back – on the right side of the English defence. It may also be that Mason Mount’s discipline and work ethic is preferable to Jack Grealish’s casual approach to attack.

And the reintroduction of the five-man defense that England served so well in Russia four years ago should not be neglected, even though Southgate has said he would rather play with a back-four.

Whether a conservative approach is appropriate for England remains to be seen. However, it will further alienate some of the fans who fear that Southgate’s preference for caution over penetration will ultimately cost this group of English players their chance at glory this winter.

Trent Alexander-Arnold remains second choice behind Kyle Walker as right-back

Trent Alexander-Arnold remains second choice behind Kyle Walker as right-back

Gareth Southgate was booed by England fans but more questions need to be asked of the team

Southgate was booed by England fans after Hungary’s 4-0 hammering on Molineux

But Southgate has earned the right to be trusted. The negative story that the manager’s cautious approach cost the team their four-year loss to Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals may sound true. Likewise, England’s failure to go for the carotid artery after an early lead against Italy in last summer’s European Championship final may have cost the country its first trophy since 1966.

But the fact that England finished fourth in Russia in 2018 and second at Euro 2020 is remarkable.

English football was in the gutter after Euro 2016 and Southgate’s work to turn this group into a team entering the World Cup with genuine hopes of winning the tournament is illustrative of the strides the national team has taken under 51 -year-old.

“We have sparked optimism and anticipation,” Southgate said. “That’s understandable, because people assume that there will always be progress. But it doesn’t always work that way. And we know that top-level competition is unbelievably high.”

England supporters have knives at the ready if the Three Lions don't improve

England supporters have knives at the ready if the Three Lions don’t improve

Jack Grealish has a casual approach that isn't quite convincing for Southgate yet

Jack Grealish has a casual approach that isn’t quite convincing for Southgate yet

Those comments will not dispel some of the fans who believe Southgate’s tactics are the biggest barrier to England winning the World Cup in Qatar in December.

“I won’t be able to change the mood in the coming months, I have to accept that,” Southgate said. “That will be a different experience as England manager that I haven’t had yet, but that I was prepared for and knew could happen someday.

“And it’s probably unrealistic that it won’t happen at some point. So that is the downside of international football, you are sometimes judged in a short time. Sometimes it can be 10 minutes that changes your life.

“I can’t do anything with the players right now. They need rest. They need to get away and clear their heads.’

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