Matt Smith says...
With games coming thick and fast and without the promise of a summer to recover, knowing when to go for broke and when to dial down the tempo will be key to teams progressing in the tournament. As soon as the Wales result was confirmed I feared England would be influenced more by the group position rather than playing the opposition. That they managed to do so without coming a cropper was either lucky or well-judged depending on your viewpoint. It was tougher than I imagine they expected but, a first half sitter for USA aside, they managed to prioritise defence reasonably comfortably and always looked like they could step up a gear or two if needed.
Final group game interest
With Welsh hopes of qualifying still theoretically alive and a tasty-looking geopolitical winner-takes-all showdown between USA and Iran, the final group games on Tuesday hold slightly more interest than they would have done in the event of an England win. Knowing that only a win would guarantee England topping the group will hopefully concentrate minds in a more attacking direction on Tuesday night.
There were a couple of worrying moments toward the end of the game when Maguire seemed worried about a niggle. Initially, it looked like a hamstring concern but later it looked like his lower back. I was surprised to feel so concerned, to be honest, but he looked pretty commanding at the back and, given Southgate’s faith in a settled backline, England will hope it’s nothing more than the natural strains and pressures of a surprisingly busy day at the office.
Just like England’s performance against Scotland at the Euros, the media reacted to a sub-par performance but, tournament-context-wise, good result as if ‘the bubble had burst’. The obsession with England performances being viewed through an excessively rose-tinted or doom-laden perspective just makes an already pressurised situation so much worse. England are perfectly capable of disappointing fans without these external influences but, luckily, the camp seems a happier, more zen-like zone than it has in previous tournaments.
Mitch Marshall says...
Grealish game time
Much social media attention has been diverted onto Phil Foden, and in particular why he didn’t come on when players like Mason Mount were clearly struggling to influence the game.
But recently enough, Southgate was being similarly criticised for his treatment of Jack Grealish. Tonight though, Southgate brought him on and I thought he changed the game. His drive and willingness to take risks was a perfect tonic for viewers watching an immensely turgid performance overall. Now let’s see if Southgate will risk him from the off against Wales.
Harry Maguire gets a lot of stick. Some of it deservedly so, at least on a football level. He can look clumsy at the best of times, and arguably lacks the full range of skills needed of a modern centre half at the very top level.
I’ve always quite liked him though, for his honesty if nothing else. Tonight, in his 50th England appearance, we saw his valuable warrior qualities. He managed the threat of a mobile US forward line excellently, even as the game became stretched. And he remains a considerable set piece threat too.
With regards to his selection, Southgate has been fully vindicated so far in this World Cup.
It’s worth prefacing this by noting that I probably felt this deflated after our Euros draw with Scotland. Such was what was to follow at Euro 2020(1) that I can’t actually remember. So take the following with a hearty dose of salt.
Tonight, though, I really questioned the England manager’s choices.
His in-game management in particular is something of which I’ve often been critical, while generally defending his record.
Keeping things tight for ten minutes tonight probably made sense, but the negative attitude seemed to percolate through the whole team more and more as time wore on. That it took around 70 minutes to do anything about this, by which time we should have been at the very least one goal down, represents incredibly poor management in my eyes. We were just as bad after half time as before it, which is hardly a ringing endorsement of Southgate’s man motivation either.
I hate to say it, but tonight adds to the naysayers’ stock of evidence that Southgate has hindered, not helped, this latest golden generation of English talent. I really hope that turns out to be wrong.
This links to the above point, but I do think the players have to shoulder some responsibility for a rather flat showing.
Harry Kane may well be carrying a semi-serious knock to his ankle, so I’ll give him a pass.
As for the likes of Raheem Sterling and Declan Rice, though, I thought this was a pretty poor performance by their own very high standards. While this wasn’t helped by some of Southgate’s decisions, like subbing the lively Jude Bellingham, the fact that he and Bukayo Saka were so much more involved in the game shows that it wasn’t all down to poor tactics.
For tonight’s game to be a blip, a case of good tournament management, such players will need to up their energy levels before Tuesday’s now-crucial home nations tie with Wales. Here’s hoping!
Kyle Garrett says...
USA didn’t threaten much but neither did Iran, and we still conceded twice.
It was nice to get a clean sheet after Monday.
Our options off the bench are very good.
Only Rashford and Grealish came on for us offensively, which left Foden and Wilson on the bench, with Maddison expected back soon.
Lack of cutting edge
We created enough to score on the night but didn’t against a poor side.
We’ll need to be more clinical when we play better sides.
Like the Group Stage of the Euros, he’s been really quiet. He came good in the knockouts of that tournament and will hopefully do the same again.
It could be worth giving Wilson a chance in the final group game to prove why he got the final attacking spot over Toney and Abraham, among others.