Euro 2020: Why England may take a cautious approach against Croatia

Euro 2020: Why England may take a cautious approach against Croatia

Jermaine Jenas

I know people want to see a really exciting and attack-minded England display against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday – but I don’t think we will start Euro 2020 on the front foot.

Instead, what I think we will get in our opening game in Group D is a more pragmatic approach from Gareth Southgate’s side, and a cautious performance.

That might not be what Three Lions fans think should happen, because we have so much attacking talent at our disposal – but what Southgate will be hoping for is a solid performance, and something to build on.

He might look at certain games and think he can open up a little bit more, and look to cause the opposition some problems – there will be times he might go with Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount, and get them all in his team.

But Sunday, in his side’s first match of the tournament, is not one of them.

I am hoping to see some attacking flair from us, of course. But against Croatia, Southgate will be happy to let the game develop before he lets his team off the leash to go and create.

‘I wouldn’t say we are 100% ready’

Southgate knows all about Croatia after England played them in the 2018 World Cup semi-final, and twice in the Nations League afterwards.

You might think they are an ageing team and weaker now than they were when they beat us in Russia because Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic have retired, while England have improved because of our crop of talented young players.

There’s an element of truth in that but at the same time their experience is a massive strength, and so is the fact they are a settled team with a set system.

I watched Croatia play Belgium in a friendly last Sunday and they pretty much put out the same side that will start at Wembley.

In contrast, for various reasons, England are going to be making lots of changes to the team who played a warm-up against Romania.

England team ‘not at its peak yet’ – Southgate speaks to BBC sports editor Dan Roan

I don’t blame Southgate for using his squad, and resting some players. He wants his best team fully fit and flying in the latter stages of the tournament.

The downside is that chopping and changing means we are coming into this tournament without really knowing how England are going to set up. I wouldn’t say we are 100% ready, personally. There is a lot of uncertainty around our team.

So we have to be realistic about where we are at right now. We are a very good side and we have some match-winners, players who could win the tournament for us.

But there are teams at this European Championship who are beasts at major finals, and experts at going deep into them, because they are so well drilled in the way they have played for years. Croatia are one of them.

Why not? We could win it – England players look ahead to Euro 2020

We have got some brilliant individual talent, but we are right at the start of the process of figuring out what works and bringing it all together. Right now I am not even sure whether we will play with three or four at the back on Sunday.

The good thing about that is, major tournaments are very good for forcing you into a way of playing and finding some rhythm – especially when things start going well.

Croatia’s midfield is too good for us

We have got some players who can make a huge impact on this tournament, but I just really hope that the country gets behind them and is patient if there are any setbacks, and lets them build something as this competition continues.

I’ve predicted that England will win 2-1 but that is my heart overruling my head.

Euro 2020: England manager Gareth Southgate says it is time for nation to unite

It’s going to be a tight, tense and nervy game. As fearless as they are, it’s not going to be a case of all of England’s skilful players on the pitch being allowed to strut their stuff.

We know how Croatia play – they are a possession-based side and I am expecting them to dominate the ball for long periods. We have to accept that, and also be realistic about where they are stronger than us in certain areas.

In midfield, for example. Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic have got 264 international caps between them, and have all played in at least three major finals.

They are going up against Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and, possibly, Mount. Yes, they are younger and might be more mobile and have more energy, but they are all brand new at this level – together, they have only 41 caps.

Phillips has had a very good year – but he has just come up from the Championship with Leeds in the past year, and he has not seen anything like this before. Rice has had a great season for West Ham as well but let’s be honest – he’s not played any Champions League football either.

We want to create history at the Euros – Mount

Mount will probably be in there too, and he is our star man. He has won the Champions League with Chelsea but he is still a kid and in his first senior tournament for England.

There is no way when Modric comes up against those three this weekend, he is going to be thinking ‘oh no, this could be a problem for us’, but just because Croatia are better than us in midfield does not mean they are going to win the game.

England have to keep their composure

Graphic showing England play Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic in Group D

The way Croatia started against Belgium last week, I thought ‘wow’. The Belgians just couldn’t get the ball off them.

But Croatia did fade quite a lot as the game went on and they always looked a little bit light in attack. Ivan Perisic was a threat, but the ball wasn’t sticking up top and eventually that caught up with them – Belgium began to build their way back into the game and won it 1-0.

That’s what I’m hoping England can do too. We just have to keep our composure and wait – the first half could be a shock to the system for a lot of people watching, because we might not see much of the ball but we should grow into the game the same way we can grow into this tournament.

Jermaine Jenas was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

Banner Image Reading Around the BBC - Blue

Footer - Blue

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *