Gareth Southgate must nail it in the San Siro to stop the rot… England – winless in four – against Italy and Germany in their final matches before the World Cup, and a win is needed
- England will register fifth game in a row without winning if they don’t beat Italy
- They can be relegated to the Nations League this week before the World Cup
- Manager Gareth Southgate has taken some blame for his squad’s poor recent form
- England need a win with the World Cup in Qatar now less than two months away
- Click here for all the latest 2022 World Cup news and updates
The last time an England team won five games without winning was in 2014. Tonight would be a bad time to match that record.
Roy Hodgson was the manager eight years ago. Three of those mediocre results, two defeats and a draw, came in the group stage of the World Cup in Brazil, leaving England home early.
On Friday in Milan, Gareth Southgate is making final preparations for a new World Cup, his second as England manager.
The England side of Gareth Southgate are desperate for a win and are winless in four games
The Three Lions face Italy and Germany this week in the Nations League and could be relegated
Form has let his team down at the wrong time and if they lost to Roberto Mancini’s side in San Siro, England would be relegated from the top tier of the Nations League and, importantly, only have Monday’s home game with Germany. to restore some kind of confidence ahead of the important cases in Qatar that kick off at the end of November.
Southgate were booed and booed when his team lost 4-0 at home to Hungary in Wolverhampton in June. Before that, England had lost in Budapest and drawn with Italy in their own country and Germany in Munich. During all that, they scored one goal, a penalty.
It was a slump in form that seemed unlikely as England swept through World Cup qualifiers in the months following their penalty defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final last year.
England were humiliated when they lost 4-0 to Hungary in their most recent match in June
Looking back on all this at the team hotel, a long goal kick from the San Siro, Southgate did not try to relinquish his own role in what happened.
“We played 22 games without a loss and you think that’s just going to go on and maybe you’re not that ruthless in certain decision-making,” Southgate said. “I’ve compromised certain decisions and you don’t win if you compromise.
“We are very clear about why those things happened and what needs to be done to put things right. I’m not saying I felt too comfortable. But in general, when you’re running fast, you don’t dig that deep into what could be happening and what could go wrong.
“The summer was really complicated. Two games behind closed doors and other mitigating factors, but internally we looked at everything and felt there were things we should have done better. Very often when you win, some of those things are still going on, but you’re not looking at it with the same intensity and the same spotlight.
“But I think every manager makes mistakes. Every manager reflects. That’s part of improving. It was good to refocus that focus because where we’re going means I have to be ruthless.’
Southgate is set to manage England in his second World Cup, having won fans in 2018
If Southgate needs any proof of how quickly things can change in football, all he has to do is look to Friday’s opponents. After beating England at Wembley in July last year, they lost eight months later at home in a World Cup qualifier play-off to North Macedonia and will not compete with England in Qatar.
Italy’s results under Mancini remain modest. European Championship success was the culmination of a three-year undefeated streak, but since that day at Wembley, Italy have won just four out of 14 games, something which will be reflected by a poor crowd tonight.
It is Southgate’s job to ensure that England is ever spoken of as an anomaly, an unexpected and largely inexplicable interruption in a period of progress. But if he wants to change direction, he has obvious problems.
Thursday night’s expressions of support for Harry Maguire were commendable, but it was nevertheless interesting to hear them in certain terms. Maguire will continue to play, he suggested, largely because there is no obvious candidate to replace him.
Likewise, if Maguire goes into winter without first-team football at Manchester United, then one of Southgate’s most expressed fears that his players are undercooked may well come true.
Spirits were high in training despite England having been in poor form lately
In the short term, relegation from the Nations League would be detrimental to England and Southgate put it. The beauty of the relatively new competition was to offer England first-class opponents outside of the major tournaments.
If they drop to the second level, the quality of those opponents will disappear. So events in two famous stadiums over the next four days are just as important as two games outside the tournament for quite some time.
Southgate played that famous 0-0 in Rome in 1997 that saw England qualify for France in 1998 and could use some of that spirit and application from his team tonight.
Southgate was also happy to tell people that England haven’t won to Italy since 1961. Earlier, he talked about his team’s habit of breaking new ground. After 61 years, perhaps something memorable — not to mention something comforting — is too late.