Paul Merson delivers his verdict on England’s first Euro 2020 win over Croatia, before turning to Friday night’s massive encounter with Scotland at Wembley.
Merson, who won 21 caps for England between 1991 and 1998, praised manager Gareth Southgate’s team caps in Sunday’s 1-0 win over the 2018 World Cup finalists.
However, Merson believes the England boss should refresh their roster against Scotland, who lost their first Group D game 2-0 to the Czech Republic at Hampden Park on Monday.
One player the former England striker doesn’t think will be picked on Friday is Aston Villa playmaker Jack Grealish.
And while Merson was delighted with England’s impressive performance against Croatia, there is one more area of the team that is causing him sleepless nights …
Sterling was always going to start
Raheem Sterling is running without the ball, and that’s where the goal comes from, so I wasn’t surprised at all with his selection, I thought he was crazy.
You can’t experiment with the first game, it’s the bigger game. Gareth can experiment now, because we’re pretty much done.
The Croatian selections have all paid off
Fair play to Gareth because he gets beaten if that doesn’t happen and that’s what I love about him – the confidence in his own ability to go: “You know what, I go with what I believe and I’m not gonna listen to the audience. It’s my job and I have to do it my way. “
If we lose Sunday, then he’s in big trouble, so that was a big bet.
If I’m Luke Shaw or Ben Chilwell, I might as well go home now with Gareth having opted for a left-back right-footed Kieran Trippier.
I also thought playing a four-a-side was a big bet but we can’t get carried away as Croatia were terrible and looked way past their expiration date.
In midfield, Kalvin Phillips’ performance shocked me if I’m being honest.
Grealish doesn’t fit Southgate’s plans
But he needs to be careful with his selection against Scotland as he doesn’t want to put unwanted pressure on himself by making too many changes.
If he brings in Jack Grealish and rips him apart, people will want him to play every game. But he won’t play against Scotland. If you face Phil Foden, Grealish and Mason Mount in the same team, when will England get the ball back?
Sterling played well, Foden showed glimpses, Harry Kane struggled as he continued to lack in a crowded midfield, where he would never find space, he had to go the other way and stay ahead if he wanted to get involved in the team.
We just have to give him chances, but even if he doesn’t score in his first four games of the tournament, he will still play in the fifth.
The problem with Grealish, however, is that the whole nation wants him to start because he’s the “new Gazza.” He’s a top player, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think he fits Gareth’s plans. And if he plays it and tears it apart, then Gareth’s under pressure again when he doesn’t need to be under that pressure.
But he has to change it against Scotland, 100%. He could trade a Foden for a Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford.
The problem with Grealish, however, is that the whole nation wants him to start because he’s the “new Gazza.” He’s a top player, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think he fits Gareth’s plans.
And if he plays it and tears it apart, then Gareth’s under pressure again when he doesn’t need to be under that pressure.
And that’s why I don’t think he came against Croatia, because it was done for him with Croatia continuing the game 1-0. No one keeps the ball better than Grealish.
England must assert its advantages
I think he will change it and I would too. You have to remember that we hope to see it through to the end, so you can’t expect the same 11 players to play all of those games in this heat and not make a difference.
And the only advantage we have over all the other teams is that we might not have the best XI, but we have the best 23. I could change all the players up front except Kane and we wouldn’t be. not weakened. I could bring in Rashford, Grealish, Jude Bellingham, and Sancho.
I could also bring in Chilwell and Reece James to the full backs and again that wouldn’t weaken the team and that’s why we have a huge advantage. But you have to use this advantage because there is no point in having all these players if you want to continue playing the same team.
And with England almost done, that’s why I would like to experiment now. We have to look to win every game because it’s all about trust, rather than worrying about where we should end up in the squad.
If you win your first three group matches, it doesn’t matter who you play in the next round. And you would play a team that finished third in their group, so you won’t play very well anyway.
So keep winning.
Defense still worries me though….
But this team will not win the Euro on Sunday and I just want to say that at the back against better teams it will be dangerous, especially with a back four. But other defenders will return and he can then go to three and play horses for lessons.
My worry, however, has always been and always will be in the background. I have no problem with the midfielder and I’m going forward.
We have Declan Rice, Mount, Bellingham, who is a phenomenal player sitting on the bench, Phillips who produced.
What worries me is when we were really on top against Croatia – because what we usually do is fall asleep. It is getting too easy. And then all of a sudden the team breaks on us, like what happened against Austria and Romania.
So until we play someone who is strong defensively, I will always worry.
But in the future, no worries, and all Gareth has to do is make his selections well. It must be remembered that these players have played a lot of football this season.
But what I like is that Gareth will do it his way …