Ukraine 1-1 England: Do the Three Lions have a Southgate problem?

Ukraine 1-1 England: Do the Three Lions have a Southgate problem?

Kyle Walker’s 41st-minute goal at the Tarczynski Arena in Wroclaw was all England had to celebrate against Ukraine. 

Kyle Walker scored the equaliser for England against Ukraine (IMAGO)
Kyle Walker scored the equaliser for England against Ukraine (IMAGO)

The goal cancelled out Oleksandr Zinchenko’s opener in the 26th minute as the match ended Ukraine 1-1 England. 

It means England have dropped points in the EURO 2024 qualifiers for the first time although they remain six points clear at the summit of Group C. 

While the result itself, should not warrant an overreaction, the pattern of favouritism in Gareth Southgate’s decision-making is not only obvious but potentially problematic for England. 

Southgate’s postgame comments

“The reality is we’re not going to win every game by fours and sevens as we’ve done in this qualifying campaign, ” Southgate said, offering some justification for the result. “That was a really good test, away from home, in a very passionate atmosphere.”

England manager Gareth Southgate speaking at the post-game press conference (IMAGO)
England manager Gareth Southgate speaking at the post-game press conference (IMAGO)

The next few words did reveal some fundamental issues with Southgate’s selection process. 

“We had quite a few changes forced from the last game. Sometimes, especially with attacking play, it doesn’t quite click.”

By that, Southgate refers to the changes in the formation as a reason for the underwhelming display against Ukraine.

England started the game with a 4-3-3 setup with Harry Maguire at the centre of the defence, despite not playing regularly for his club Manchester United. 

He also decided to stick with Jordan Henderson in midfield despite the controversy surrounding the former Liverpool man who left to join Saudi Arabian side Al Ettifaq this summer.

Another questionable decision was playing James Maddison, a midfielder, as a left winger while leaving natural left wingers like Marcus Rashford, Eberechi Eze and Phil Foden on the bench. 

Southgate’s selection problem

These issues were raised by the general public when the England list was first released ahead of this international break with people wondering how the likes of Maguire and Kalvin Phillips made the list despite being mostly on the bench at their respective clubs. 

The answer is simple, Southgate, like many other coaches, makes his selections based on trust and familiarity rather than current form and overall merit. 

To be fair he’s always been like this so this isn’t a particularly new development, however, the positive results were some sort of defence that allowed him a pass. 

But now that England have drawn a game as a direct consequence of Southgate’s favouritism, it might be time to ask some serious questions of the manager’s selection process. 

Maguire played the full 90 minutes and his lack of game time and match fitness stuck out like a sore thumb on the pitch.

SHarry Maguire in action for England against Poland (IMAGO)
SHarry Maguire in action for England against Poland (IMAGO)

He didn’t commit an individual error but still merits some blame for Ukraine’s goal as he displayed a lack of concentration which enabled Zinchenko to pounce and take full advantage.

Talks about Southgate’s future with England have made the rounds lately with Pep Guardiola among other names being touted as the next in line for the job and it is fundamentally for reasons like this.

Even if the reports are indeed true and England want to replace Southgate, they still have to deal with the issue on ground.

There is a chance this could cost the Three Lions on a much grander stage with the Euros coming up soon.

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