Tops & Flops: Gareth Southgate’s positives and negatives as England ease past Senegal

Jude Bellingham: Player of the tournament? – It’s difficult to believe the Borussia Dortmund midfielder is still just 19, such is his authority, intelligence and composure in all aspects of his play. Although less headline-grabbing than fellow contenders like Kylian Mbappé, Bellingham is arguably this tournament’s most influential player right now and he was key in creating both England’s first-half goals. The way he pinched the ball in on the edge of England’s box before gracefully slaloming through Senegal’s midfield to pick out Phil Foden who squared for Harry Kane to thunder a shot home for 2-0 might be this World Cup’s most memorable moment so far.

Phil Foden’s best England display – Having been oddly absent from England’s opening games with Iran and the USA, Foden’s belated arrival on the pitch in Qatar has given England much-needed vision and fluidity in forward areas and is at last proving to be an upgrade on the reliable but comparatively one dimensional Raheem Sterling. Southgate’s initial reluctance to include Foden will likely have been tied to his quiet England career up to now, having never really come close to matching the verve of his Manchester City performances in an England shirt. Here, however, that all changed. Foden’s perfectly weighted brace of assists for Kane and Bukayo Saka plus his sharp backheel which broke lines to instigate the opener were decisive in a landmark performance for the 22-year-old.

Harry Maguire’s passing into midfield – England’s passing in deeper areas was, much as it was during the dull 0-0 draw with the USA, glacial, especially for the first half an hour. It was so slow that, on several occasions, the game ground to a halt with Maguire or John Stones on the ball as they tentatively looked up into midfield before passing sideways again. England eventually went a little more direct towards Kane, which helped unbalance Senegal. Meanwhile, stronger teams (like France) will be less inclined to drop into a rigid defensive shape against England, which will help Maguire and Stones pick forward passes, but coach Gareth Southgate has to make a decision on how England are to construct moves aside from counter-attacks. Maguire tried to be more progressive but two sloppy passes were fortunate not to be punished before the break.

Jack Grealish’s wasteful sub appearance – Despite some ineffectual club form of late, Southgate has gone to Grealish more often than might have been expected given his reluctance to play the 27-year-old last summer at EURO 2020, despite fan clamour. However, his latest sub outing against Senegal, after a handful of promising appearances in recent games, might have pushed the Manchester City man further down Southgate’s hierarchy of attackers in a congested area of the squad. His passing was wayward and his decision-making on the ball was often lazy and risky, which won’t have pleased a strictly results-focused Southgate. Expect to see Mason Mount and even James Maddison against France.


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