Questions Persist for England Despite Victory

England are through to the quarterfinals of the European Championships after defeating Slovakia 2-1 in Gelsenkirchen last Sunday. Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane saved the day for the Three Lions with their late goals after Slovakia had taken the lead in the first half.

Bellingham’s equalizer came in the final seconds of second half stoppage time, while Kane delivered the final blow with the first shot of extra time.

A Limited Attacking Threat

Even with so many stars in their lineup, England looked devoid of creativity and flair for the majority of the match. After Denmark in the group stage, it was Slovakia’s turn to overshadow England with their superior passing, especially in tight spaces.

Bellingham scored with a wonderful bicycle kick, but did not threaten much otherwise, aside from making a few forays into the opposition penalty box. England’s wingers, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka, were even less inspiring, and the latter was shifted to the left-back position in place of Kieran Trippier in the second half. Foden continued to struggle as the left winger and played through the inside-right channel, his preferred area, for the last 15 minutes or so of his stay on the pitch.

Cole Palmer replaced Saka as the right winger, and his introduction certainly made some positive impact. However, even Palmer struggled to get past Slovakia left back Dávid Hancko. Eberechi Eze’s entrance infused some much-needed energy into the English attacks and it was no coincidence that they looked like a team with more purpose thereafter.

It remains an enigma that Anthony Gordon, an adept left-winger, has gotten only a few minutes of game time in the tournament so far, despite the lack of intensity in England’s attacks through the left. Gareth Southgate’s decision to throw Ivan Toney in instead of Ollie Watkins in his pursuit of a goal must have also baffled some people.

Moreover, right from the beginning of the match, England looked most threatening when they played aerial balls into the opposition penalty box. Both their goals came from such aerial deliveries into the box. It was almost inexplicable why Trent Alexander-Arnold was not introduced as a right wing-back with England switching to a back-three, given Slovakia’s difficulty dealing wit high crosses.

It was a bit concerning despite the presence of star players such as Foden, Bellingham and Kane in the team, 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo was probably the most composed of all English players. He looked confident on the ball and launched a number of attacking moves with his passing.

A Tough Task Against Switzerland

England will not have an easy time against their next opponents, Switzerland. The Swiss have a talented squad that’s already beaten Italy and drawn with Germany. As the English defenders, namely Kyle Walker and Marc Guéhi, start showing signs of vulnerability, the Three Lions will be wary of Switzerland’s attacking might.

England can still be considered the favourites, but only just. Switzerland is capable of an upset and Southgate is certainly aware of this. It remains to be seen whether he and his players approach that quarterfinal differently than they have their four matches so far.

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