Jessy Parker Humphreys rounds up the action from an intriguing clash at Wembley and Wales’ 2-0 victory over Turkey in Baku as the visitors edged closer to the knockout stage.
A switch to attacking full-backs by Gareth Southgate didn’t have the intended impact at a wet and windy Wembley. Any attempt to take the foot off the brake with Luke Shaw and Reece James was negligible as England lacklusterly passed their way to a 0-0 draw with Scotland.
The expectation might have been that Shaw and James would be used to create overloads going forwards, or put more crosses into the box. Instead, England focused more on Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden running into gaps between Scott McTominay, Grant Hanley and Kieran Tierney with some lovely balls over the top from Mason Mount and James. Given the rainy conditions, the ball was harder to control and skidded off the surface, and as the game went on England struggled more and more to find spaces to create those opportunities. Bright starts to the first and second half faded away, and in the last fifteen minutes it became quite clear that both sides were content to take the draw.
Large portions of this match felt reminiscent of some of the games Chelsea played under Thomas Tuchel this season. The constant passing across a backline, the slow movement of the ball, the lack of penetration as sides were happy to let them have the ball. The desire to have control of a game leads to an unwillingness to take risks. Chelsea only scored more than two goals once in the Premier League under Tuchel – a 4-1 win against Crystal Palace. In many ways, Tuchel’s first season at Chelsea fell under similar circumstances to Southgate’s at England, with limited training opportunities leading to cautious systems prioritising giving away few chances.
Both managers have extended this caution to the use of their benches. Tuchel ignored proven goal scorers like Tammy Abraham and was quick to substitute more inventive players like Callum Hudson-Odoi if he felt like they were not following his instructions. The isolation of Jadon Sancho feels similar. It would be ridiculous to suggest Southgate is unaware of Sancho’s attacking talent, and much more plausible that he is not trusted to do the defensive work expected of him within this England team. The fact that his number of pressing actions in the Bundesliga last season (255) fell far below that of his attacking teammates at Borussia Dortmund, Marco Reus (475), Gio Reyna (361), or Erling Haaland (320), is pretty indicative of that.
But Southgate is not Tuchel and international football is not the same as it’s domestic counterpart. Southgate does not have the luxury of games inexorably following one after another so that a frustrating end of season loss to Aston Villa can quickly be followed up by winning the Champions League. Instead, the country is up in arms that England only managed to get a point and keep a clean sheet against a side who have shown over the past couple of months that they are pretty good.
At Euro 2016, not a single side won all three of their group games and Portugal, the winners of the whole competition, could only manage three draws. It underlines that the crucial aspect of tournament football is not to lose. England managed that against Scotland, and on another day where John Stones times his jump right, they probably win. As it is, Gareth Southgate now has to try and tune out the noise and focus on beating the Czech Republic. Inevitably if England do that, almost all of this dull game will be forgotten.
Scotland’s midfield three shines as they block off England’s paths to attack
A midfield three of John McGinn, Callum McGregor and Billy Gilmour shielded Scotland’s back line magnificently to frustrate England. The spaces that Kalvin Phillips found against Croatia to run into were non-existent whilst Gilmour effectively shackled Mason Mount for large portions of the game. Even more impressive was that Gilmour was making his first ever start for Scotland as the 20-year-old demonstrated the same kind of coolness which has led to him being so highly rated at Chelsea. With this kind of solidity, and Croatia having looked so blunt in attack at this tournament, Scotland should back themselves to get out of the group.
Gareth Bale, by luck or by judgement, demonstrates the value of going for it
Conventional wisdom suggests that if you manage to win a corner in injury time at an international tournament where you are 1-0 up against Turkey, you attempt to keep it there. On no account are you supposed to attempt to dribble the ball along the goal line and get the ball into the box. You are certainly not supposed to do that twice.
But then Gareth Bale is no ordinary footballer, particularly when he is playing for Wales. Despite taking one of the worst penalties you will see this tournament, the ball rising higher and higher to soar over the bar, Bale believed, not incorrectly, that the best way to not give up a one-goal lead is to score another. And so on his second attempt at dribbling from a corner, his cut back to Connor Roberts went in, putting Wales almost certainly into the next round. In football, as in life, you’ve got to shoot your shot.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph