Gareth Southgate relays instructions to Kieran Trippier during England's Euro 2020 opener against Croatia
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Gareth Southgate will spend the next five days working intensively on England’s set-pieces and will also consider whether to bring Kieran Trippier back into his team to improve their delivery for the last-16 tie.
England booked their place in the knockout rounds by beating Czech Republic to top Group D, but manager Southgate has been unhappy with his team’s set-pieces so far and lost both of his designated takers on Tuesday night.
Mason Mount and Phil Foden had been designated to take England’s corners and free-kicks, but Mount was forced into isolation, ruling him out, and Southgate decided he couldn’t, therefore, risk playing Foden on a yellow card.
Luke Shaw took over on England’s corners and free-kicks and came under fire for his deliveries from his former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who described them as “very poor” and “dramatically bad”.
Southgate was not so harsh in his assessment, but admitted England must improve on set-pieces. They now have five days to work on them before next Tuesday’s last-16 game at Wembley.
Trippier is England’s best set-piece taker, as first discovered at the 2018 World Cup, and with Mount unlikely to start the next game because of his isolation period, Southgate will also consider whether to stick with Jack Grealish or bring Foden back in for his deliveries from dead balls.
“We had an issue against the Czechs as in training it was Foden and Mount, so that wasn’t helpful,” said Southgate. “Our delivery hasn’t been good really. There was the one where [John] Stones hit the post, which was bang on the money, and Trippier’s delivery in the first game was excellent, and we haven’t matched that since.
“It’s quite rare for us. We have gone four or five matches without a set-piece goal and that’s an area we can improve upon. They are crucial in big matches and we have to get those nailed.”
After England’s victory over Czech Republic, Mourinho told Talksport: “The only negative thing I would say is they were very poor on attacking corners. The service was dramatically bad. They have so many good players to attack corners.
“Luke Shaw, in my opinion, [was] very good tonight but very poor on the corner. Kalvin Phillips, the same.”
Southgate presides over England training
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The next five days give Southgate the opportunity to iron out England’s problems at their St George’s Park base and also give his players, some of whom have only recently returned to fitness, a chance to recover and refresh themselves.
“The first thing is it is great to have a couple of days to recover the players, because a few of them have had quite a heavy load in the last week or so at the end of a very long season,” said Southgate.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t overdo the work on the training ground. But the difference for the next game compared to the Czech game, where we wanted to change the way we were defending and we couldn’t get onto a training pitch to do it… we had to do it in team meetings. Huge credit to the players for adapting without the ball the way they did.
“Of course, you always want training time: it’s the thing we don’t have as international managers and we’ve hardly had any of it with the full group because of the complications at the start of our training camp. It would be nice to have what looks like everybody available bar the two lads who are isolating and that time will be definitely helpful.”
Harry Maguire played his first game for six-and-a-half weeks on Tuesday night, while Jordan Henderson played another 45 minutes and Southgate added: “We knew that because of the nature of our preparation – to get 10 of the players so late – and not be able to get them into the friendlies.
“And then [to] have Maguire not available, Henderson early stages of rehab, Jack [Grealish] having only played the last couple of games of the season and still having to miss training – [plus] one or two others with small issues.
“So we knew the team was going to have to evolve and we were wanting to get some players match minutes tonight. Even with the Scotland game we wanted to get players onto the pitch. Reece James started for example because he hadn’t played since the Champions League final.
“So if one or two of those players were needed going forward, then they had match minutes and the fitness and sharpness we are going to need.”
What are England doing wrong at set-pieces?
England players pack the box for a corner against the Czech Republic
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By Mike McGrath
Gareth Southgate has laid the blame for England’s poor attacking set-pieces on the poor delivery from players during their three matches at the Euros.
They have a surplus of set-piece takers in the squad, with rookie winger Bukayo Saka taking some free-kicks against Czech Republic. Kalvin Phillips took some corners but it was a real mix-and-match for dead-ball takers.
Gone are the days when the opposition knew it would David Beckham’s right boot delivering free-kicks and corners and landing them on the heads of team-mates.
And while Beckham would consistently put the ball in the right area, none of England’s set-piece takers regularly got the ball into the penalty area with pacy deliveries. All too often they would hit the first defender and England would have to fight to get the ball back.
What were they doing in 2018?
At the World Cup three years ago England were the masters of the set-piece, scoring nine goals from corners, free-kicks or penalties on their way to the semi-finals, when Kieran Trippier’s direct effort gave them hope of reaching the final.
John Stones and Harry Maguire were excellent at getting on the end of corners and having attempts at goal themselves or teeing up Harry Kane for close-range finishes. Kane was also helped by scoring three penalties.
Southgate’s team bamboozled opponents when they lined up for corners in a row of four players stood very closely together before scattering as the ball came across.
Is it a Kane thing?
Kane won the Golden Boot with the help of three penalties, which he expertly dispatched on each occasion. England have barely had a sniff of a spot-kick in the tournament far, with a few tame appeals the closest they have come.
Kane also scored twice against Tunisia by finishing from close range after Stones and Maguire had won headers from corners. The delivery so far has not allowed England to create the chances for Kane to finish off.
At least he is no longer taking corners like he was at the Euros in 2016, when Roy Hodgson thought others would be better at getting on the end of his set-pieces. This time around he is in the right area, but needs service.
Is it refereeing?
The officials at the Euros have been widely praised for allowing play to continue and refusing to put up with players throwing themselves to the floor. But they have also been less strict on holding in the penalty area compared to the World Cup three years ago.
Kane was bundled over by Jose Luis Rodriguez when he earned a spot-kick against Panama. Then he was grappled by Carlos Sanchez in the Colombia victory.
Defenders are wiser to referees penalising holding in the penalty area and there is the added complication of VAR, which gives the officials another chance to award a spot-kick with a review.