View from the chaise longue – England restore calm to win at a canter

Posted on December 5, 2022

It was red wine and the chaise longue for the culture vulture again last night. Yet again, I didn’t feel physically and mentally equipped to go out in the cold and into a pub of football experts. I don’t know why, but hearing someone shout “GET GREALISH ON!”, every 20 seconds, seems more tolerable in the summer. Perhaps it’s because you can escape to the garden when it is warmer?

I must admit, I spent the hours before the Senegal game battling with my presumption that England would win with ease. Fighting off entrenched stereotypical thoughts about African teams being athletic and skilful but tactically naive, is not easy. The fact that no African team has ever gone beyond a quarter-final is, at least in part, evidence that the class gap is still there. However, presumption makes an arse of us, so I pretended to myself that Senegal were World Cup contenders. This would soften the blow of a catastrophe.

An early test

I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t supposed to be easy task for England but in the end, it was. However, after starting reasonably against Senegal, England temporarily lost their way in the first 35 minutes. As a consequence, I started feeling glad that I had convinced myself Senegal were a world class outfit. Rattled by the quick and energetic Senegal forwards, England offered up a couple of unforced errors that may well have been punished by more composed teams (i.e. France). Maguire also made poor passes in quick succession to put England on the ropes (he continues to worry me).

Still, this England are not, it seems, the old England. The old England would have conceded and gone into panic mode, haplessly hoofing it around in the blind hope something positive might happen (like against Iceland in 2016). This group blended from youth and experience, stayed calm and changed up to a quicker more direct approach. They steadied themselves and bypassed the Senagal quick press instead of trying to play through it. This soon led to two classy and rousing goals late in the first half, killing off the Senegal threat. With the fast press neutralised, Senegal had no answers.

Another sublime goal early in the second half then allowed England the luxury of resting players and coasting through the last 30 minutes without alarm. We are told by pundits that good teams are ruthless when it counts and England’s three goals were as brutal as they were eye-catching. In Jude Bellingham, England have a destructive force that had Ian Wright and Roy Keane searching suitable superlatives. If he stays injury free, England have an absolute gem. The excellent Phil Foden wasn’t far behind him.

What next?

Playing France in the last eight is a challenging prospect, mainly due to the presence of Mbappe. France are not a one man team but without him, I would fancy England to win. I genuinely believe England have a better squad than France. Yet, with Mbappe playing, it’s hard to see England not conceding. He is strong, combative and can change a game in the blink of an eye.

With all that said, France don’t look so wonderful under pressure and I think England have the players to trouble them. In fact, I am convinced England have the players to trouble them. The power, pace and clinical finishing for England’s 3 goals would not have made easy watching for for France. Okay, they are a much better side than Senegal but I don’t think anyone would want Bellingham, Foden and Saka coming at them at full throttle.

Trust in Southgate

It is at this point where I think us chaise longue fans should put faith in Southgate and how he sets England up. I for one, would not know what team to pick in a bid to quash France’s attacking threat. It might not even be possible with the defensive the resources at his disposal. We have to be realistic about that and England may have to score 3 or 4 to win. Why not? We have the players.

Pundits far better qualified than me are suggesting there will be a titanic battle between Mbappe and Walker. There is even talk that Walker is the only player in the world with the pace to stop Mbappe. I’m not qualified to comment on that but it would appear to be a challenge Walker will relish. I am guessing that is why defenders play football? To challenge themselves against the best.

If I am aware that England shouldn’t put all their focus on Mbappe and let Griezmann and Giroud in the back door, I am sure Southgate and his management team are. Wouldn’t it be shame if England got over-obsessed (a bit like me) with Mbappe and lost their focus elsewhere? If I was manager, England would end up with 3 players kicking the shit out of Mbappe whilst Giroud scored a hat-trick. That’s why I am backing Southgate. He gets paid lots of money for getting it right whilst I am slowly getting intoxicated on Malbec.

England are good at football

As a chaise longue fan, I have come to a conclusion and it is this. England are, at last, good at football. Whatever the outcome on Saturday, they are a team to respect. They go about their business well, both on and off the field. Their tactics and discipline look sound and post-match interviews are insightful and interesting, shorn of the triumphalist old bollocks from the past failures.

In the tournaments of the 80’s, 90’s, noughties and the first 6 years of the the teens, England were all blood, guts and bravado. They promised passion and pride and delivered it in spades (and red cards). I would support them but amongst all the false hope and ‘this is our time’ soundbites, the end was always as predictable as a sunny day in the Sahara. Tears, regret, chaos, blame, and burning effigies of players who got carried away with the hysterical pride and passion jingoism splattered across the tabloids.

This team feel so much better than that. They seem organised, professional, in control and well equipped to come up with solutions to a faltering game plan. They may not yet be quite ready to do the unthinkable and win the World Cup but it doesn’t feel preposterous to think they might. I still think the centre of England’s defence is decent but not world class and that could be where the tournament ends.

But that’s just a view from on the chaise longue.

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