How England can turn drab Scotland draw to their advantage

It was a night when England took the high road, the low road and the long road and still couldn’t get round Scotland.

A frustrating goalless draw at Wembley served as a timely reality check after the heady optimism created by that opening win over Croatia.

That could prove to be no bad thing as Euro 2020 progresses even if the boos and jeers that rang out into the soggy Wembley night were justified.

England trio John Stones, Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings look dejected after the stalemate

England trio John Stones, Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings look dejected after the stalemate

England trio John Stones, Jack Grealish and Tyrone Mings look dejected after the stalemate

The drab goalless draw in the Wembley rain gave Gareth Southgate lots to think about

The drab goalless draw in the Wembley rain gave Gareth Southgate lots to think about

The drab goalless draw in the Wembley rain gave Gareth Southgate lots to think about

Yes, it was a drab performance marked by the kind of endless sideways passing and lack of adventure going forward that took you back to the Roy Hodgson era.

But it certainly isn’t all negative for Gareth Southgate and his side as thoughts turn to Tuesday night’s Group D finale against the Czech Republic.

Here’s how England can turn Friday night’s Scotland stalemate to their advantage.

 

England are still in charge of their own destiny

Judging by some of the criticism of Friday night’s performance, you’d think England were on the verge of crashing out of what is largely a ‘home’ tournament for them.

Quite the opposite.

With four points from their opening two games, they’re all but guaranteed a place in the last-16 regardless of what happens on Tuesday night.

They only need a draw against the Czechs – a team they thrashed 5-0 at Wembley the last time they met in 2019 – to get through and even a shock defeat should still see them through as one of the four best-ranked third-placed sides.

Raheem Sterling's winner against Croatia on Sunday means England are likely to go through

Raheem Sterling's winner against Croatia on Sunday means England are likely to go through

Raheem Sterling’s winner against Croatia on Sunday means England are likely to go through

England destroyed the Czech Republic 5-0 the last time they met at Wembley back in 2019

England destroyed the Czech Republic 5-0 the last time they met at Wembley back in 2019

England destroyed the Czech Republic 5-0 the last time they met at Wembley back in 2019

With just eight of the 24 sides eliminated after the group stages at the European Championship, it’s very hard to fail and especially so after winning your first game.

And obviously England, who rank at No 4 in FIFA’s list, will be strong favourites to beat the Czechs, who rank No 40.

 

Finishing second isn’t necessarily the worst outcome

Plenty of amateur mathematicians on Twitter were pointing out that it may actually be preferable for England to finish second in the group behind the Czechs.

This would happen if they lose or draw on Tuesday night.

As was well sign-posted ahead of the tournament, England are on a collision course with one of France, Germany or Portugal in the last-16 if they win the group.

Although that game would be played at Wembley, the prospect of facing either the reigning World champions, the defending European champions or old rivals Germany is a daunting one.

Finishing second in the group would see England avoid France, Germany or Portugal next

Finishing second in the group would see England avoid France, Germany or Portugal next

Finishing second in the group would see England avoid France, Germany or Portugal next

England would ideally avoid France and Germany in the last-16 despite home advantage

England would ideally avoid France and Germany in the last-16 despite home advantage

England would ideally avoid France and Germany in the last-16 despite home advantage 

While England have come a long way under Southgate, few would back them to overcome France while the other potential opponents would afford them only a marginally better chance.

However, if they finished runners-up in the group, England would face the runners-up from Group E – one of Spain, Sweden, Poland or Slovakia.

They would cede Wembley advantage, with the tie being played in Copenhagen, but on paper it would be an easier assignment.

It could prove a short-lived advantage, though, because that Group of Death winner would then likely await them in the quarter-finals.

 

The defence has proved resolute

Everyone’s main fear ahead of the tournament was that England’s defence would be vulnerable and prove an achilles heel.

After two clean sheets, that certainly hasn’t been the case so far.

Tyrone Mings has stepped up to fill the void left by the injured Harry Maguire and the Aston Villa man has formed a good understanding with John Stones at centre-back.

They restricted Croatia to next to no chances on Sunday and Scotland had just one opening of note, when Jordan Pickford was called upon to save from Stephen O’Donnell in the first-half.

Tyrone Mings (right) has stepped into central defence alongside John Stones (left) well

Tyrone Mings (right) has stepped into central defence alongside John Stones (left) well

Tyrone Mings (right) has stepped into central defence alongside John Stones (left) well

Mings win a header against Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes during Friday's match at Wembley

Mings win a header against Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes during Friday's match at Wembley

Mings win a header against Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes during Friday’s match at Wembley

Fears of England leaking goals have so far not come to pass and, although Maguire insists he is fit and ready to play after his ankle injury, Southgate may be tempted to stick with Mings for now.

Let’s not forget either than Stones was just the width of the post away from putting a very different complexion on Friday night’s result.

 

Now we’ll surely see Grealish and Sancho unleashed

There weren’t any dissenting voices to be found after Southgate went with Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden in attack for the win over Croatia and it paid off.

But suddenly there are calls for a complete overhaul with Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho starting the next game.

It’s likely that Southgate will now make changes against the Czechs and there’s every chance we’ll see that pair, plus perhaps Marcus Rashford, involved to a greater degree on Tuesday.

Grealish has become the people’s champion after just eight England caps and many of the 20,000 or so at Wembley were singing his name minutes before he was brought on.

Jack Grealish did provide a spark when brought on and should start on Tuesday evening

Jack Grealish did provide a spark when brought on and should start on Tuesday evening

Jack Grealish did provide a spark when brought on and should start on Tuesday evening

Jadon Sancho has not played a minute at the Euros and cut a frustrated figure on the bench

Jadon Sancho has not played a minute at the Euros and cut a frustrated figure on the bench

Jadon Sancho has not played a minute at the Euros and cut a frustrated figure on the bench

Although unable to bend the game completely in England’s favour, Grealish did provide something that was painfully lacking – a willingness to take on the Scotland defenders.

All too often, England passed their way into wide positions outside the Scottish penalty box before deciding to retreat rather than back themselves in a one-versus-one situation.

Grealish now looks a certain starter in the final group game, which will please the public, and there’s a strong case for bringing Sancho in too.

Sancho, pictured in a pre-tournament friendly, can prove the ability to take on an opponent

Sancho, pictured in a pre-tournament friendly, can prove the ability to take on an opponent

Sancho, pictured in a pre-tournament friendly, can prove the ability to take on an opponent 

It has been surprising that we haven’t seen a single second of the Borussia Dortmund star so far after he was left out the squad entirely for Croatia and looked a frustrated unused sub against Scotland.

As Ian Wright said on ITV’s coverage: ‘You’ve got someone like Sancho on the bench.

15 goals and slot online 20 assists a season – and he doesn’t even get on. We need to create.’

You do sense that Southgate is playing the long game here. 

England expect to be at the Euros for at least four games and hopefully seven and with such a depth of attacking talent at their disposal, the right moment will be chosen to unleash them in turn.

Sometimes you need a poor performance at a tournament to realise what needs to be changed.

 

Surely Kane won’t be quiet again?

Yes, it was an off-night for Harry Kane.

England’s captain and talisman found himself shackled by Norwich’s Grant Hanley and was ultimately replaced by the fresh legs of Rashford.

Kane hasn’t received a clear-cut chance in either game so far but that says as much about the service coming his way than his own performances, which has largely involved leading the England press.

There will be speculation over whether Kane is fully fit or simply exhausted after a demanding season. Some will conclude the prospect of a £150million transfer away from Tottenham this summer is a distraction.

It was a frustrating night once again for Harry Kane as he drew a blank against Scotland

It was a frustrating night once again for Harry Kane as he drew a blank against Scotland

It was a frustrating night once again for Harry Kane as he drew a blank against Scotland 

England's captain was eventually substituted off by Southgate after struggling in attack

England's captain was eventually substituted off by Southgate after struggling in attack

England’s captain was eventually substituted off by Southgate after struggling in attack

But surely someone who has just scored 33 club goals this season, won another Premier League Golden Boot and was top scorer at the World Cup in 2018 won’t remain out of touch for much longer?

Hopefully against the Czech Republic, aided by wide attackers willing to beat players and get to the byline to cross rather than going round the houses with backward passes, he’ll get a goal or two.

 

Trusted Trippier to come back in

The only changes made by Southgate on Friday night came in the full-back positions with Luke Shaw and Reece James replacing Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker.

It was a bit of a surprise to see Trippier left out as he’s clearly one of the players Southgate trusts most.

After James failed to make much of an impact, it’s pretty much assured the Atletico Madrid man will be back in on Tuesday night.

Kieran Trippier (left) should return to the England side at right-back for the Czech match

Kieran Trippier (left) should return to the England side at right-back for the Czech match

Kieran Trippier (left) should return to the England side at right-back for the Czech match

Trippier is clearly trusted by Southgate and his absence makes it easy to understand why

Trippier is clearly trusted by Southgate and his absence makes it easy to understand why

Trippier is clearly trusted by Southgate and his absence makes it easy to understand why

His aptitude with set-pieces is desperately needed, too, after Mason Mount’s poor corner kicks against Scotland and some equally sub-standard free-kicks that were easily dealt with.

There was also a dearth of quality crosses given the amount of attacks from wide areas.

Trippier is England’s first choice right-back for a reason and they look stronger with him in the side.

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