Plasters over all parts of the team (2024)

Plasters over all parts of the team (1)

"Who else?" shouted Jude Bellingham as he celebrated his goal: who else? In fact, you couldn't think of another England player who would have been able to save the motherland of soccer from a similar loss of face in the last action of normal time as in the 2016 European Championship defeat to Iceland. Jude Bellingham didn't just score the equalizer (95.+1), he did it with a magnificent overhead kick. It was a belated present for his own birthday on Sunday, as he had turned 21 the day before. His teammate Harry Kane, England's record scorer, who added the winning goal against Slovakia at the start of extra time to secure a place in the quarter-finals, described Bellingham's poetry as "one of the most beautiful goals in our history".

"God help us if Jude Bellingham starts playing well," the notoriously grim TV pundit Roy Keane pined in his analysis. Irishman Keane is certainly in no danger of running out of superlatives. He was the only one in the ITV studio, and perhaps even in the whole of England, who marveled at this ball art with folded arms. The fact that Keane's praise also suggested that, despite his two goals in the tournament, Bellingham had not yet reached anywhere near his normal level of performance aptly summed up the incessant criticism of England at this European Championship.

Jude Bellingham complains about the pressure from home and the negative headlines

But this time Jude Bellingham didn't take the criticism lying down, launching into an all-out attack. His goal meant that the team would be spared the feeling of having "let the nation down" - and "all the garbage" that would have come with a defeat, the midfielder emphasized. What exactly did he mean by that? That is well known, he hissed. It should be a proud thing in itself to wear the national jersey, but in reality it is "often a lot of pressure". And who better to judge that than Bellingham, who has been under pressure to succeed at Real Madrid for a year now?

Despite his young age and the enormous playing load at Real this season, Jude Bellingham is expected to fire the Three Lions to their first European Championship title at home. He vented his dissatisfaction with this sense of entitlement in his goal shout. "Who else!" was directed less at his team-mates than at the English public. There was even discussion there about his starting eleven place after he had announced in the last group game that he felt "absolutely dead". But Gareth Southgate stuck with him, as he did with captain Kane, who also lacked freshness after his back problems at FC Bayern at the end of the season. The coach only took them both off the pitch late in extra time. Southgate's reason: they are always good for a decisive action.

The England team's strength of character is down to Southgate

In his almost eight years in charge, Southgate has never allowed himself to be rattled by the mood swings at home. Once again, he kept his composure in every match against the Slovakians. On the one hand, the strength of character of the English national team can be derived from his steadfastness. The Three Lions show team spirit, perseverance and resilience. In this way, Southgate became the first coach ever to lead England to the quarter-finals of a tournament for the fourth time in a row. They face Switzerland in Düsseldorf on Saturday.

On the other hand, Southgate's critics interpret his sometimes stoic composure on the sidelines as a lack of plan and action. He is accused of an over-cautious tactical approach and not having enough ideas to harmonize the qualities of the many renowned players in his squad. The English fans and media are looking for the kind of exciting attacking soccer that is usually presented by the top clubs in the Premier League. They measure the players more by their potential than by their current condition. At the same time, the team lacks balance in all parts of the squad.

Shaw injured, Walker plagued by personal problems: England's defense is shaky

In defense, right-back Kieran Trippier will have to fill in as a makeshift left-back because the permanently absent regular Luke Shaw has only just returned to training. As an alternative, Southgate had decided not to nominate Ben Chilwell because he was no longer first choice at Chelsea FC. On the other side, right-back Kyle Walker looks out of sorts. The most obvious reason for his unusual absence from matches is probably massive personal problems. Walker had a chaotic double life for years: in addition to his four children with wife Annie, he had two more with influencer Lauryn Goodman. Goodman made the situation public in detail at Christmas 2023. Both women are now on site at the tournament and are making headlines with their presence - especially Goodman, who consistently comments on the family situation.

Despite the loss of form, Southgate trusts Walker. His speed on the counter-attack is too important to the coach to prefer him to the more offensively gifted Trent Alexander-Arnold. Against Switzerland, the yellow card suspension of central defender Marc Guéhi, who has been the most consistent performer so far, will make things even more difficult. Due to the defensive problems, Southgate seems to be forcing his already conservative way of thinking. For example, he is not prepared to allow the full-backs to move up consistently. When he allowed them a little more space against the Slovaks, the defense promptly lost its stability.

The unattractive style of play is due to the lack of pace and tempo

Another aspect of the unattractive style of play is that England are looking for a playmaker in midfield - a void that Southgate has criticized for years and for which he himself has not found a solution. During the European Championships, he tried out several players as an interface between Declan Rice and Bellingham, the hanging midfielder. Only Kobbie Mainoo from Manchester United has proven himself to be capable of carrying the load. But in his first professional season, he lacks the experience to immediately set the pace and rhythm for the team. This makes it extremely difficult for the English to combine the ball flatly through midfield. This also slows down their attacking play, as they definitely lack pace up front. Kane as well as Bellingham, Foden and Mainoo prefer to have the ball at their feet, which means that only Bukayo Saka is available for steep passes.

Theoretically, it would be possible to break up the statics; Southgate has the most options in attack, as the substitutions against the Slovakians proved. But changes to the starting eleven would also mean that the coach would have to bench one of the aforementioned top players. Southgate is not willing to take that risk, preferring to back the established players - and accepting the disappointment of the reserves in return. The powerful striker Ivan Toney, who ultimately set up Kane's goal, was "pretty upset" when he came on as the last substitute in stoppage time, Southgate reported.

Hopes also rest on Jude Bellingham in the quarter-finals

When asked again about the team's unsightly performances, Southgate pointed out without further details that he was "sticking plasters over various things". For this reason, England's only hope for the quarter-final against Switzerland seems to be to build on a solid defense and rely on the individual class of the team - and of course on Jude Bellingham in particular. Who else?

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Plasters over all parts of the team (2024)
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