England boss Gareth Southgate looks to combine blood and thunder with Spanish style

England boss Gareth Southgate looks to combine blood and thunder with Spanish style

January 28, 2022

FOR years we have been a nation of curtain-twitchers.

Peeking over the garden fence, checking what the neighbours are up to and trying to keep up with the latest fads.

How Spain are playing. How Germany are doing it. How Brazil once did it.

Copy them and conquer the world, or something like that.

Gareth Southgate has travelled to every corner of the globe and come up with a simple plan — England will play like England.

Blood and thunder. Guts and enthusiasm. Snapping and snarling. Pretty much the way we have always played.

Spain, these little pass-masters who knock the ball between them for fun, will love the sound of that.

To hear Southgate talking like this, a refined way of saying that England are gonna stick it up ’em, was more than a little sobering.

The country’s interim head coach said: “Generally it’s a core part of English football — we have really strong, athletic players.

“The profile of our players moving forward, because of the diversity of our country, is going to see powerful athletes coming through. So we have to tap in to that diversity as well.”

Oh, my. To keep up with the Joneses, England need a bit more about them.

John Stones should be watching videos of Franz Beckenbauer on a loop and learning how to play the libero position properly.

Let us not pretend Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier cannot pick up a thing or two from clips of a World Cup and European Championship winner like Andres Iniesta.

Just because they get to pull on an England shirt, it does not turn them into top-class international footballers overnight. You have to practice hard, damn hard, for that bit.

Southgate wants to establish England’s identity, a way of playing that is synonymous with success.

Working out a way to combine those traditional English traits with an overseas influence is tough to put into practice.

When England lose, say to Iceland at Euro 2016, the country screams for root and branch reform but we need to adapt — combine blood and thunder with guile and skill.

Southgate, four games into his stint in charge tonight, is starting from scratch in terms of combining the two styles.

He knows Spain can be beaten, even if they are likely to make more than 600 passes at Wembley.

Some of their triangles, their cute little turns and the spins off their markers will take place at high speed.

England’s job is to use some of that old-fashioned hunger and win the ball back — and quickly.

Southgate added: “I don’t think we’ve ever been looking to do what Spain do.

“I don’t remember seeing many good teams that weren’t good at pressing — whether that was Holland in the 1970s or going back to Milan with their successful teams. It is a fundamental core of what we want to do and what we would need to do to be successful.

“There is a lot of tactical emphasis on the way Spain play with their angles of support.

“It’s not just some very gifted players. Positionally they’re fantastic without the ball. The bigger picture is the long term — from the work I helped with putting 5 v 5 at the youngest aged groups and changing the size of pitches.”

To stop Spain slicing England apart, the players will have to cover every blade of grass. It will be a thorough workout but also a chance for both managers to be a bit more cavalier in their approach to the final fixture of the year.

The dream is to mix and match, to borrow a bit from each of the world’s leading countries and build the perfect England side.

The reality is that Southgate is hoping to hit upon a formula that can survive six games at the Euros, or seven games at a World Cup.

He must find a way of playing that suits the players in hand and is capable of disrupting the rhythm of opponents.

Do that and one day the neighbours will be knocking at the door to ask how we do it.

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