While it was only a UEFA Nations League semi-final, many things about it were very very familiar for England fans. It brought back memories that they would not want to be reminded of. But there they were- letting go of a one nil lead once again.
If not for Jadon Sancho’s close range header that was missed, England would have won the game rather comfortably. Just like how England would have beaten Croatia if Harry Kane had squared off to Raheem Sterling in the first half in the FIFA World Cup semi-final.
While these are only minor things that could have changed the games, England have come a long way under Southgate. Even despite the disappointment against the Netherlands. But some deficiencies still exit.
Probably the biggest of all was the team selection against the Dutch. The England midfield looked slack and got overrun very easily by Frenkie de Jong, Maarten de Roon and Gini Wijnaldum. It looked slow and after England had gone up, they decided to drop in and defend. That put a lot of burden on a very weird midfield combination.
There was no dynamism about it- showing how England missed Harry Winks. Declan Rice improved as the game grew on but Fabian Delph had an average game. Ross Barkley played almost as an advanced playmaker and played closer to the forwards than to the midfielders.
Adding Winks in there for Delph or Rice would have added more venom and dynamism to a midfield that hasn’t had a player like Winks in a long while. Even Jordan Henderson could have been played from the start, about a week after having won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool. Not because of his leadership but because of the intensity he brings to the plate.
Because of these errors, England failed to manage the game in the right way. Frenkie de Jong dominated and as England began dropping deep, the new Barcelona man grew into the game. And he was allowed the room to control things. Players like Henderson and Winks would not have allowed him to do that.
A lot of things looked good too, despite it not being England’s best performance in a while. Netherlands did do well to extinguish a lot of their attacks as the players looked somewhat tired and not as focused as they should have been.
The goal came from a Marcus Rashford penalty after Matthijs de Ligt had lost the ball close to goal and brought the Man Utd man down.
But the lack of a midfield that could have nullified the intensity in the Dutch midfield made the English defense look mediocre, despite John Stones having a decent game before the blunder in extra-time.
Southgate has to make Winks a key part of his side going forward, judging by the looks of things. He will hold the key for the team because of his versatility and flexibility in the heart of the park.
It was another lesson to learn in a hard way, but the future is still very much bright for the Three Lions.