How can England learn from the past to stop semi-final rot?
England have lost their last TWO semi-finals by not being clinical enough and making defensive mistakes… so, how can Gareth Southgate’s side learn from the past to stop the rot against Denmark in huge Euro 2020 clash?
- England face Denmark in their crucial Euro 2020 semi-final on Wednesday night
- The Three Lions have lost their last two semi-finals including the 2018 World Cup
- Gareth Southgate’s side also lost the 2019 Nations League last-four tie to Holland
- Sporstmail looks at where England can learn from previous semi-final mistakes…
It’s time for Gareth Southgate’s England to show whether they are the real deal, or whether they’re just a ‘nearly’ team.
Getting to a tournament semi-final has been rather common under Gareth Southgate since he took over the role of national team coach in 2016. In fact, England have now reached three semi-finals of tournaments in the last four years.
But England have never been able to make that crucial step to a final in the previous two attempts. On Wednesday they face Denmark looking to break the hoodoo.
England are looking to break a semi-final hoodoo against Denmark on Wednesday night
Gareth Southgate’s side are looking to go one step further than the 2018 World Cup last four
Southgate encapsulated the nation by taking it to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018, but the country was heartbroken after a 2-1 defeat after taking the lead in Saint-Petersburg through Kieran Trippier’s free-kick.
Twelve months later, England reached the last four of the inaugural Nations League tournament but that tie went down a similar route to the Croatia game – the Three Lions took the lead before throwing away their final chances.
With England looking to break the last-four hoodoo, Sportsmail looks at what Southgate and his team can learn from their two most recent disappointments…
The Three Lions also crashed out at the Nations League semi-final against Holland in 2019
SUBSTITUTIONS AND SQUAD DEPTH ARE KEY
Of course, every England squad changes for every tournament but there is a dramatic increase in options available to Southgate this time around.
In the 2018 World Cup, the Three Lions line-up was fairly fixed. Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire played in front of Jordan Pickford. Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli were the midfield triumvirate. Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young flanked Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling as the central men.
The only real changes in that tournament came in the dead rubber final group stage game with Belgium. While this was easy for Southgate in terms of team selection, the England boss had little experience in changing the course of a game when problems started to emerge.
Southgate struggled with his substitutions during the 2-1 loss to Croatia at the 2018 World Cup
In the Saint-Petersburg semi-final against Croatia, Southgate was almost motionless on the sidelines after Croatia equalised through Ivan Perisic’s goal.
Only Marcus Rashford came on for Raheem Sterling before the 90 minutes ended, while Danny Rose and Eric Dier replaced Ashley Young and Jordan Henderson as straight swaps. Jamie Vardy was brought on for Kyle Walker as a last chance saloon when England trailed.
It meant there was no change to creative fulcrums Alli and Lingard, who had played nearly every minute of the tournament at the end of a long hard season and summer. England did very little to trouble the Croatia goal in the final parts of the game
Similar problems arose in the Nations League tie with Holland, as Southgate struggled with having attacking options off the bench. Kane could only play 45 minutes due to injury but the other options were Alli, Lingard and the unused Callum Wilson.
Southgate also had limited attacking options in the Holland semi-final and made few changes
Once again, England struggled to create much after Holland drew level with Mattijs de Ligt, including in extra-time where Holland struck twice.
The situation this summer could not be any more different. Southgate is likely to have the likes of Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jack Grealish to pick from on the substitutes’ bench.
Furthermore, the five substitutes rule gives Southgate more ability to take risks – and if the match goes to extra-time, then a sixth substitution could see more than half of the line-up fresh off the bench for the crucial moments where England have failed in the past.
Southgate now has an all-star bench to pick from including Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish
PLAY IT SAFE
The 2019 Nations League semi-final should be seen as a warning for the England players: do not make any slack defensive mistakes at any stage.
The Three Lions were in a tense situation during extra-time when Stones’ fumbled on the ball on the edge of his own box to give away possession. Memphis Depay was clear through and Walker ended up scoring an own goal from Quincy Promes’ rebound.
It was an error that put Holland into the ascendancy and another defensive horror show gave England’s opponents a two-goal cushion.
John Stones made two crucial errors in the Holland tie for two extra-time goals in the 3-1 loss
Southgate will need to do his best to eradicate the silly errors that have greeted England
Stones played a tricky pass into Ross Barkley who, in trying to pass back to Pickford in goal, gave the ball straight to Depay. The Dutch forward squared for Promes and the Three Lions’ chances of winning were over.
Any such defensive lapse against Denmark would be catastrophic for England’s chances. The Danish press has worked to perfection with goalscoring consequences against Russia, Wales and Belgium and there is no indication they will let the Three Lions off the hook at Wembley.
Southgate’s side have been controlled in possession so far this tournament, particularly when Maguire is playing at the back. But the England boss will be hoping history does not come back to haunt them regarding Stones.
Denmark will press England high and try and force errors like for their goal against Belgium
TAKE YOUR CHANCES
At the top end of the pitch, England will need to make sure they’re on point and recent history shows semi-final teams punish those who fail to take opportunities.
Against Croatia in 2018, England’s other big opportunity has been highly publicised. Kane went through down the left and his shot was parried by Croatia goalkeeper Danijel Subasic.
The rebound fell perfectly for the England captain but could not fire home from a tight angle and instead lashed a shot onto the post and Croatia cleared. Sterling, meanwhile, was in a better position in the penalty area for Kane to square it to.
Harry Kane (left) missed a golden chance to double England’s lead against Croatia in 2018
The chance was ultimately pivotal to the Three Lions’ hopes of making the final. Instead, Croatia managed to turn the game on its head and Southgate’s squad were left hearbroken.
A similar opportunity fell in the Nations League match against Holland that England should have taken. Fabian Delph’s cross found Jadon Sancho completely unmarked inside the box but the Dortmund winger could only fire straight at Jasper Cilessen.
Once again, that chance let Holland off the hook and Ronald Koeman’s men were able to haul themselves back into the tie. England showed they can be clinical against Ukraine in the quarter-final win on Saturday, but they will need to keep that up on Wednesday night at Wembley.
Jadon Sancho’s miss against Holland in 2019 shows how important taking chances are in semis
A common denominator between all these points could come down to a simple level of concentration. England were caught out at both ends of the pitch because they were not focused enough over the 120 minutes.
The Three Lions have yet to be taken to extra-time yet in this tournament so any additional period would feel like new territory. England’s mistakes towards the end of matches have been costly in the past and must not be repeated.
Against Croatia, Walker let Perisic run across him to latch onto a cross from the right and score an equaliser. Mario Mandzukic’s winner came when Stones switched off at Perisic’s header to let the big Croatian forward run through.
England showed a lack of concentration in the Croatia tie for Mario Mandzukic’s winner
The Three Lions also switched off at a corner for Matthijs de Light to score a bullet header
Meanwhile, against Holland, the Three Lions switched off for De Ligt to head home from a corner, while the little said about the two extra-time goals, the better.
England have been fairly concentrated this summer but a couple of issues do stick out. Sterling’s poor backpass giving Thomas Muller a one-on-one was the closest the Three Lions have come to conceding, while Walker and Stones had a mix-up for Roman Yaremchuk to force Pickford into a good save.
Denmark will offer problems too, particularly from set pieces. The Danes are coached on their set-plays by well-known consultant Mads Buttgereit and Thomas Delaney’s goal against the Czech Republic shows how dangerous they can be.
Win on Wednesday night and England write themselves into the history books, but elimination would create doubts about whether Southgate’s men are a ‘maybe team’.
Denmark are well-trained in set pieces by their specialist coach and will be a threat at Wembley
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