With Germany set to face England at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, we decided to catch up with someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Being a Bayern Munich site, most of us don’t know much about the English, but thankfully Colin Damms of The Busby Babe agreed to answer our questions about the tie. Here are his assessments:
1. Gareth Southgate isn’t popular with England fans - can you explain why?
That’s a difficult question haha. It’s hard to think of an England manager ever being popular in my lifetime, and in that sense I can’t think of one more popular than Southgate. But still his tactics and team selection have been pretty frustrating at times. Not changing things up much through the World Cup could be blamed for the eventual exit to a team we should beat, and a slow start in an attacking sense at this tournament has led to similar worries of complacency.
2. Why have England scored so few goals in this tournament?
I think it’s because of the conservative approach in midfield. Rice and Phillips have both done very well breaking up opponents in midfield, but they don’t offer a whole lot going forward. They sit pretty deep even in possession, which has left England’s presence centrally pretty weak and pushed build up play to wide areas of the pitch. It left Mason Mount with a lot to do in front of them (Grealish in the Czech Republic game), and on top of that the striker leading the formation is apparently in poor form. Harry Kane hasn’t looked too lively so far, that will probably need to change.
3. As fans of the Bundesliga, we’re baffled to see Jadon Sancho on the bench for England. What’s up with that?
Personally I rate Sancho more than most players in the squad. I think that he isn’t one of the first names on the team sheet is baffling, but probably a reflection of preference for Premier League players and systems. There’s been the argument that Sancho hasn’t been great for England yet, but few players have. He was coming off an injury late in the season, so maybe that has something to do with it, but I can’t think of another player who would fit on the right wing better for England.
Southgate used Foden in the first two matches before switching to Saka, the latter of whom played quite well. Neither of them are natural right wingers however, which makes the decision to leave Sancho out all the more confusing. Maybe the brief spark he provided alongside Rashford in the last group match will help his case.
There is the small matter of his reportedly imminent move to Manchester United, so maybe Southgate was waiting for that to be removed as a distraction. I think this game could be a perfect opportunity to bring him into the starting lineup, with confidence high off of the supposedly sealed big transfer as well as a bit of knowledge on how the opposition play.
4. Describe Southgate’s tactics a little. Will England set up to attack Germany, or will it be a conservative approach?
Southgate has been difficult to track tactically speaking, but he’s generally been pretty risk-averse at tournaments. He played a bit more attack minded in the Nations League and in qualification, which was pretty fun with Rashford, Sterling, and Sancho working around Kane up top. I don’t expect to see that level of dominance against a top team obviously, but it gave Southgate a lot to work with up top.
Defensively England are much more solid with Harry Maguire back and healthy, and probably more so with Rice and Phillips playing ahead of them. This means there’s usually only one creator in midfield however, so the middle of the park has been difficult to control in the final third and full backs have to do more work offensively. I expect this to be the case against Germany, and likely with less possession. That could leave England with more space to exploit on the counter, but comes with obvious risks of being contained and failing to influence the game.
5. What is your biggest worry about the game, from an English perspective?
My biggest worry, and what I think is England’s biggest weakness, is the mentality of the team. England haven’t been a force to be reckoned with for some time, and the expectation of becoming one came after a run to the semi-finals. On paper, England have a squad that should compete with any team on the planet, but that has rarely translated to success. And that lack of composure late in tournaments has shown across multiple generations now.
Winning a penalty shootout last world cup and getting to the semis was big, but we didn’t beat any particularly strong opponents to do so. Germany is a team that usually spells doom for England at tournaments. Winning this one would be huge no matter how it gets done.
Southgate understands the culture of the team well, but it takes more than that to win. If England are going to finally beat Germany at a tournament they’re going to have to believe that they can and execute accordingly. Germany aren’t as strong as they have been, but they have a ton of experience and are still pretty composed. If they smell blood in this one I expect they’ll take advantage, and I’m not sure England can get back up after taking a big hit.
Huge thanks to Colin Damms for taking the time to do this QandA with us!