Gareth Southgate’s refusal to bow to public pressure and pick an attacking England team has earned the respect of former manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Southgate has guided the Three Lions to the last eight at Euro 2020, reaching this stage with their first knockout tournament win over Germany since 1966.
But the manager’s team selection has been the source of scrutiny.
Not since the 2018 World Cup semi-final against Croatia has Southgate named an unchanged side, a run of 34 consecutive matches seeing at least one alteration.
Despite this tinkering, the England boss has consistently named starting line-ups that have underwhelmed supporters.
Jack Grealish has started just seven of those 34 matches – and only one at the Euros – while Jadon Sancho, limited to six minutes so far in this campaign, is also not among the 12 players to have clocked 1,000 or more international minutes in this period (915).
The subsequent defensive solidity has paid off, however, for a team now versed in both a 4-3-3 or a 3-4-3.
England have kept six straight clean sheets, beginning a major tournament with four in a row for the first time since winning the World Cup in 1966.
Eriksson, England manager from 2000 to 2006, knows all about the difficulty of satisfying fans while selecting an effective XI.
He famously sought to find a way to fit Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard into the same side and has been impressed by Southgate’s resolve.
“Now you have to respect that because that’s not easy,” Eriksson told Stats Perform. “I know it’s not easy.
“It’s not easy in a club, but when you have a national team like England, everybody has an opinion. And if you don’t win, you have 60 million managers or coaches telling you what you should have done.
“But the problem always in football is that, as a manager, you have to decide what to do, how to do it before the match, not after. So, I respect Southgate very much.
“You know how it is: now he is up in the sky, flying, and that’s fair, that’s good. But it was a little bit of a defensive team he put it out to start with – and if that had gone wrong, he would have been very, very much criticised.
“He won, he had [it] right and the decision he took was right. That’s important.”
Ukraine are next up and, given they are considered more straightforward opponents than Germany, calls will grow again to bring in Grealish, Sancho or Phil Foden.
“I don’t think Southgate needs any advice from anyone – and he will not listen to it,” Eriksson said.
But he added: “I think it’s going to be very important for England that they can open up, and if you ask me, yeah, I would put in one more attacking guy, maybe, who can do things one against one.
“I think that will be important for the Ukraine game.
“But anyhow, whatever formation Southgate uses, England will win that game. I can’t see any other result than that they go through.”
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