Gareth Southgate gave a rather amusing glimpse into life as England manager ahead of the 1-1 draw with Hungary, saying he “commits a crime” with every roster he chooses.
It does score a point though. Even before a ball was kicked in England’s Euro 2020 campaign, #SouthgateOut was all the rage on Twitter.
His crime? The decision to play a slightly unexpected starting XI for their first game against Croatia has baffled many fans, with some even coming to the extreme conclusion that he has to go.
Kieran Trippier at left-back and Tyrone Mings in middle were surprises, but what arguably enraged the anti-Southgate crowd the most was the fact that he started two defensive midfielders together at Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.
It didn’t matter to some, but England won the game 1-0 and Phillips was Wembley’s best player.
Rice and Phillips became a formidable partnership in the middle of the park, starting each game together as the Three Lions made it to the final – England’s best performance at a major tournament in a generation.
An injury meant there was no Phillips for the October England internationals. They swept away Andorra this weekend and with a qualification for Qatar 2022 anything but the bag, a home clash against Hungary was a good time to test all the theory of the wheelchair experts.
Rice was the only defensive midfielder recognized in England’s starting XI, with attacking-minded Phil Foden and Mason Mount playing in deeper roles than usual.
However, the flat display at Wembley, which finished 1-1, underscored how important it is for Southgate to play a double pivot.
After the game Rice told talkSPORT, “When you have a player like Kalv and what he brings to the team, you will always miss him.
“It was the first time that Mason and I played together. Of course it was never going to be perfect, this is our first time. It takes work, but we still did some very good things.
“But defensively, maybe we could have been a bit tighter and not sucked into our positions like we did in the first half.”
England have been taken on the clock by their fairly average opponents on several occasions, but Southgate pointed out how the Phillips-shaped hole has also seen England suffer in an offensive sense.
Southgate told talkSPORT: “We wanted to find a different balance in midfield… we were looking to control things with higher levels of possession and a more attacking threat.
“But ironically, we seemed less of an offensive threat.
“It was due to our poor quality of play at times, to the decision making with the ball but also to Hungary who turned out to be a very good opponent who defended well, had good form and caused us some problems. in counterattack. “
It only took a sloppy result to really show why playing Rice and Phillips is key, but that will hopefully silence some of the Southgate skeptics.