Us England fans are fickle. Before the start of Euro 2016, we hype up our country’s chances of lifting the trophy in France, getting exciting about what a good team this is. Two weeks later, and we criticise the Three Lions for not being good enough, and mock how we’ll ‘do and England’ and muck up against Iceland in the Round of 16.
Why has this change in attitudes occurred? Well, a 1-1 draw against Russia decreased hopes, before a 2-1 win against Wales saw us become tournament favourites in fans’ eyes again. The euphoria lasted just a few days though, as a 0-0 draw versus Slovakia led to more doom and gloom as it meant England finished second in Group B. How quickly opinions change is laughable. To label this squad as the ‘same old England’ is utterly ridiculous.
This is not a team who struggled to get out of their group at World Cup 2010 before getting thrashed by Germany. This is not a team who were lucky to make it to penalties at Euro 2012 against Italy. This is not a team who flopped massively at the 2014 World Cup. This team is miles better than those sides.
This is a side who attacks with excitement, plays football that is enjoyable to watch and dominates its opponents. Those fans who have criticised England for under-performing are looking at the results. And although, yes it is a results game when push comes to shove, England’s performances at this tournament have been a lot better than the scorelines suggest. The 0-0 draw against Slovakia was not like the games against Algeria (2010) and Costa Rica (2014). Those games were instantly forgettable, whereas in St. Etienne, we showed promise and probably should have won the game.
The reason why we didn’t win the game? Firstly, I think Roy Hodgson made too many changes to the starting line-up, but the main reason was that Slovakia simply ‘parked the bus’. They came into the game knowing that a point would see them through to the next round, which in my mind is a major con of the new 24 team format which gives third place teams the opportunity to qualify for the knockout stage. Had Slovakia needed to get into the top two (and therefore needed to beat England) then they would have come out of their shell. Instead, they sat deep and played some of the most negative football I have ever seen. They barely made an attempt to move the forward, having just four shots, whilst the team’s heatmap can be seen below. And yes, that does show literally no time spent in England’s box.
England in contrast, had 29 shots – their most in a European Championship finals game since 1980, so you cannot accuse them of not going for it. I’ve also put their team heatmap below aswell, proving that we took the attacking incentive the entire game.
It’s the same scenario in each of our three group games. The opposition camp in their own half, with attacking a rarity. Against Russia, we had 15 shots and they had six. Heatmaps below (England on left, Russia on right).
Against Wales it was our 20 shots to their eight. Heatmaps below (England on left, Wales on right).
This tells me one thing. That other teams are fearful of England (despite what Igor Akinfeev and Gareth Bale say). That’s why we need to be a lot more positive about our prospects – other teams see us as a difficult test and therefore see a point as a good result. Russia, Wales and Slovakia all set up to stop England from scoring, trying to hit us on the counter attack where possible. They put men behind the ball, making it difficult for England to break them down. It’s no coincidence that Wales, who played the most attacking football out of the three sides, were the one team that England beat.
England will perform better against teams who actually turn up to play them, not sit back and defend. They will be given more space to move forward and create better opportunities to score, and as long as the attackers have their shooting boots on, that is what we’ll do – Vardy, Kane and Sturridge scored 58 Premier League goals between them in 2015-16. Then it’s just down to the defence to their jobs. Easier said than done.
We might have put ourselves on the tougher half of the draw, but I retain the fact that this England team can go all the way. We are yet to see their full potential, but hopefully against sides who also want attack, we can as Roy Hodgson has said “make someone pay”.