10. New Manager, New Tactics!
Gareth Southgate has been at the helm of England for only a short amount, taking over from Sam Allardyce in September 2016 as temporary manager, before receiving the job full-time in November 2016. Once he had been given the job, there was a mix of emotions from the England fans, some were happy a young manager with new tactics and knows the team at Under-21 level. However, some looked to Southgate’s previous managerial stints at both Middlesbrough and England Under-21 level, where he only managed to get a 29.8%-win ratio over three years and came last place in their group during the 2015 Under-21 World Cup. However, with his fast paced and quick passing style of play, Southgate has racked up at 56.5%-win ratio and has England into their first semi-final since 1990. If he keeps this up, Southgate could be in the dugout of ‘The Three Lions’ for many years to come.
9. The Fountain of Youth
Ever since the retirement Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick, as well as Joe Hart being dropped in place of Jordan Pickford, England have had a whole host of fresh, young talent added to their roster. There are still some experienced figure heads in the English dressing room, with Ashley Young, Gary Cahill and Jamie Vardy being the only players in the team over the age of 30. According to statistics, the average age of the England team is 26-years-old, with an average amount of caps being 20. With 21 out of the 23 players of the squad playing at least one game at the Under-21 level, this is a team that has grown up with each other, similar to the way Germany had with their team when they won the World Cup in 2014. Many infamous club teams, such as Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’ and ‘Class of ‘92’ have proven to work very well when a team grows up together at club level, so why can’t it work at international level. And since Gareth Southgate was the former Under-21 manager before his appointment as the senior coach, he has watched these players grow up, and knows the best way to get them playing.
8. No Major Injuries
Cast your mind back to 2010 in South Africa when the likes of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and many others were picking up injuries before the start of the tournament or during the tournament. Many fans were left worried about what was going to happen before the tournament and how England would perform, and their fears came true. England scrapped through the group stages, before being controversially knocked out by Germany. Fast-forward to now, the only major injury setback for England this time around was Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin suffering a knee injury against Roma in the Champions League semi-final second leg. Dele Alli also picked up a minor thigh injury but recovered quickly. Other than that, England have a very healthy and disciplined squad, who thus far have yet to suffer any major setbacks. If they keep a strong side, they can be ready for the coming matches.
7. Pace, Pace, Pace
As demonstrated against Sweden, when England when they break at defenders with pace cause a lot of problems. England have a roster full of talent who can take on defenders such as Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy and many others. Sterling has faced criticism over the course of the tournament for not being able to find the back of the net, but if you watch the impact he made against Sweden but taking on their defence and causing them to track his runs, without paying attention to who else was making a run into the area. This could be a massive advantage for England when they take on Croatia. Croatia’s centre-back partnership of Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida possess more strength than they do speed. If England use Sterling the same way they used him against Sweden and draw the defence out of position, he could prove to be a issue for the two time semi-finalists.
6. Rock Solid Defence
When the news broke that Gareth Southgate announced he would be taking a total of 10 defensive players (if you count Ashley Young and Eric Dier) to the tournament, many fans were disappointed. Why not Jack Wilshire? Why not Adam Lallana? England have only conceded four goals in five games and haven’t conceded more than two goals in a game. Jordan Pickford has outstanding since coming in to replace veteran, Joe Hart, keeping a clean sheet against Sweden and receiving the man of the match award. Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and John Stones have been solid through the middle and Ashley Young and Kieran Tripper have played very well at wing-backs. They have also offered support in the attack going forward, which as helped England create more channels for the runners to get in behind.
5. Multidimensional Football
Back in tournaments of old, fans were in up roar, calling England’s style of play “boring” and “Route One.” Many fans of the team were bored with the backwards and sideways style of play that they had seen in the past and wanted some change. They wanted players to be more creative and to take on the opposition with pace and confidence. Now, when watching England play, it seems to be giving the crowd what they wanted, forward pressing positive football that excites the eye and can provide hope for the crowd. This change in play has allowed most of the players to play to the best of their abilities and be played in positions that they can thrive in.
4. The Hope of a Nation
“It’s coming home!” The phrase on every England fans lips over these last couple of weeks. All round the country, the fans have been given a new lease of life when it comes to their national team. Before the start of the World Cup, there was not much of a buzz going into it. No one knew how well they would do in this World Cup, with most coming out thinking they will only reach the quarter-finals at best. However, even before reaching the quarter-finals, after defeating both Tunisia and Panama fan started to gain faith. “It’s coming home” is being played in nightclubs all over the country and posted all over social media. If it is to ‘come home,’ the streets of England will be flooded with fans and with cheer. If there are any reason for the players to motivated, this is it.
3. Harry Kane, No More Corners
Two years ago. Harry Kane was seen as one of the biggest jokes in world football. Roy Hodgeon had taken one of the greatest finishers in Europe and stuck him on corners and free kicks, some he was never instructed to do at Tottenham. Kane’s play style is similar to Alan Shearer in his prime, was never the fastest on the ball, nor was he the most skilful but he always knows where the back of net is and can score at any time, from anywhere in the 18-yard box. England are setting themselves the same way Tottenham do with Kane, use everyone else around him to get close to the area, and the distribute the ball to him in a way where he can score. England’s captain now is top of the goal scoring charts with six goals in five games, and maybe could be the one to fire England to the World Cup, just like Sir Geoff Hurst did 52 years ago.
2. Set-Piece Routines
England have scored eight goals from set pieces out of their 11 goals in this tournament. The only other team to do so was Eusebio’s Portugal in 1966. Not only do England possess the height of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Harry Kane, but the also possess those who can properly deliver a corner or a free kick, like Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard to help provide those assists. Like I mentioned before, many of the players are being used in positions that they are accustomed too, but also the set pieces they are used too at club level. Coming up against Croatia, who have only conceded four goals all tournament, England will have to use all of their set piece routines to out do them.
1. No More Egos
Remember the days of 2006 of the ‘Golden Generation,’ when players like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham all shared the same team. Big names. Powerful names. Names that commanded respect and admiration. And also, names that knew the value of what they were worth. At the time, Beckham had been at Real Madrid for three years and sold for £24.5 million and was one of the biggest names in world football. Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand had been at Manchester United for several years and had a combined fee of £55 million. Now when you look at today’s squad, the entirety of the squad plays in the Premier League, they have fought against each other, as well as play together. Only the three goalkeepers and Jamie Vardy are the only players who are not in any of the top six clubs in the league, and even then this is a team that plays like a team, instead of a team of individuals.