It is always difficult to watch and analyse international friendlies. Not much is riding on the games and they are often used as experimental games. In this case, for the two games against Germany and Brazil, Gareth Southgate decided to try the youth players who have had such success at lower levels and are exciting Premier League fans on a weekly basis.
How England Did
The games themselves were pretty dull to watch. Over three hours of football and no goals. Southgate chose Jordan Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek as his newcomers and they both shone in a relatively enjoyable goalless draw. Pickford had the pick of the saves, while Loftus Cheek did not look out of place controlling the centre of the park.
Against Brazil it was the turn of Joe Gomez and Dominic Solanke to get a runout. Joe Gomez impressed with some crunching tackles while Solanke, who came on from the bench, had some inspired effects on the game.
No matter how excited we can get about these games, and while there is no doubt friendlies are not the best litmus paper, there are still some things to take from the games. For us, when playing against sides with this level of technique Eric Dier stood out like a sore thumb. While no one can deny his effort I still feel that whether he is a midfielder or defender is shown in games like this. His cumbersome touches and panic in possession were hallmarks of a defender on the ball. Dier has been immense for a Tottenham side on the up but with a crack team around him, he is definitely helped by his teammates at Spurs.
What Is The Next Gen Like
Many of the players that got appearances over the last few games seemed to have the same qualities ad the same weaknesses. The England sides we played were exceptionally gifted in athleticism. There was no shortage of pace or running in the Three Lions. England’s players looked more than up for the physical challenge set by Brazil for example. They were even in the cases of Lingard and Rashford more than capable of getting past their defenders.
It is on the ball where England players really let themselves down. It is all very well running into a position to affect the game but if you can’t execute with the ball there is no point. Too many times was possession wasted, or poor choices were made. While Brazil looked dangerous on the ball with any weighted pass capable of cutting through the defences, England looked like they didn’t have too many ideas in the way of football geometry and passing. Relying on their strengths of chasing down overhit passes. Critics will applaud all they like at the bravery of these young players but there is still quite a gap between their talents and the best in the world like Germany or Brazil. It looks to me like a classic example of the bigger and faster boys doing well at youth level before being found out when the adults are playing
An Example of Everything Wrong With The English Game
One of the things I noticed most about the games is a slight embarrassment and what England deem International quality. The games themselves were an advert for everything wrong with the English game at the moment. Virtually all these ‘exciting’ young players are on loan or sit on the benches of the country’s top sides. Very few will ever make it at their clubs as a starter simply because their clubs can afford to buy the greatest players from around the world. These world players were seen on the pitches during these friendlies.
It was hard not to see how these Germans and Brazilians are precisely the players blocking the paths of our youth players. The matches came across as training matches because it was quite literally a match of the first team against their understudies. When watching matches like this it is easy to see why so many are now finally choosing to go abroad to get football, et al Jadon Sancho. Phil Foden is the name on everyone’s lips but once again he is at the best team in the world right now who are instead playing Germany’s best youth (Leroy Sane) where he could be getting a game.
For me, it was more of the same from England. False hope that I can already see bubbling over to become way to high expectations over these young players. I bet if we look back at the lineups in five years time quite a few will be plying their trade in lower leagues. That is just the situation England are in at the moment. Gareth Southgate could have picked young players actually playing week in and out such as Calvert-Lewin at Everton but once again has carried on choosing players for the clubs they play for rather than on merit. It is a sick circle because these young English players are being rewarded for sitting on the benches of top clubs rather than getting game time. All of this does not equal the recipe for talented players or International trophies. Put simply despite the successes of our young teams, we have to do better or we will always be playing second fiddle to these bigger teams.