Game's Gone

By Patrick Surlis

🌎 Around the world

#8・
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🌎 Around the world
By Patrick Surlis • Issue #8 • View online
International break.
Usually it’s a big yawn.
But with a major tournament on the horizon and Saints enjoying a week off, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk England…

Our skip looks a good bet to make the plane after Thursday.
As OWTS contributor Jack Mainstone mentioned on our most recent podcast, he’s a very Gareth Southgate sort of player.
And that’s a compliment. Kind of.
England were excellent from set pieces in Russia three summers ago.
I can imagine Gareth, ironing that waistcoast, daydreaming of the Love Train 2.0.
Corner, England. Second-half substitute JWP to deliver. Wembley rises. The ball swings in, it’s perfect. Of course it is. Maguire is grappling! He’s free at the far post! That massive bonce. 1-0 to the Three Lions. 1000s of Saints fans across the world hit send tweet: Best set-piece in the world and he’s ours.
It’s not just the set-pieces though. JWP is solid, he’s dependable. He’s son-in-law material, as so many like to say.
And in a midfield that lacks quality options, he’s in a very strong position.
Jordan Henderson (if fit) is in. Declan Rice too. Kalvin Phillips seems to be. You’d still like at least one more.
Harry Winks or JWP?
One hasn’t completed 90 minutes in the Premier League this year.
The other literally never misses one minute.
It would be fantastic reward for Ward-Prowse, too.
This season is already the best goalscoring campaign of his career (eight so far, seven in the Premier League, one in the FA Cup).
It seems like the tournament is just coming into focus at the perfect time for him.
Twelve months ago, that was the case for Danny Ings.
Now it looks like Danny will almost certainly miss out.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin deserves it on current form.
If Danny can recover and score maybe five or six between now and the end of the season, he has a chance.
It would put him back above Ollie Watkins and Patrick Bamford.
But, with Southgate likely taking only one backup No.9, DCL looks difficult to overcome.
Harry Kane is obviously locked in. He’s world class, honestly those that criticise him absolutely baffle me.
England have one of the best pure strikers in the world. That fact alone makes us very difficult opposition this summer.
Then you add the fact he’s also the Premier League’s leading creator with 13 assists.
As Saints fans we’ve experienced his playmaking ability first-hand already this season.
So give him a chance, he’ll score. Give him the ball in the final third, he’ll create.
You surround him with Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling.
Or Jack Grealish and Phil Foden.
Or Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho.
You’re going to score goals.
It’s also the reason I don’t really buy the criticism of Southgate’s perceived ‘negativity’.
Yes, he played two defensive midfielders against 66th-ranked Albania.
But name the last time a nation swaggered to a major tournament and swashbuckled their way to glory?
International football is tight. It’s cagey. It’s Greece winning in 2004, or Portugal in 2016.
Even Germany in 2014 were pragmatic rather than expansive.
Spain, too, preferred to keep the ball and pass teams to death rather than go all-out attack from the off. They controlled the tempo.
Calling for Southgate to stick Rashford and Sterling alongside Kane, with Mount and Grealish behind, and Henderson sitting?
Nonsense. We are not going to batter teams this summer.
It’s just not a sensible approach.
2018 was so good because it was a pleasant surprise.
It would be the England of old to now buy into that hype, do something stupid, and exit with our tail between our legs.
So at this stage I’m going to trust Southgate over the Twitter critics.
His plan looks pretty simple but simple isn’t necessarily bad.
Let’s be solid in the middle with Henderson and Rice/Phillips.
Let’s not get caught on the counter-attack.
Let’s get our full-backs to attack the flanks.
And let’s get Harry Kane the ball and let him work.
I don’t hate it.
Strength of the bench
OWTS contributor Ben Thompson is back with his third column for Game’s Gone…
Ben is a Saints fan who is currently studying at the University of Edinburgh.
You can follow him on Twitter here.
75 substitutions, 29 matches, 3 goals, 0 assists.
It’s a stat you may have seen posted by The Athletic’s Dan Sheldon earlier this month.
That is Saints’ bench contribution this season.
It’s no secret we tend to drop off in the second half, but why?
It would be easy to just point to our high-intensity press and say, ‘tiredness’. After all, our attackers are consistently near the top in defensive actions (per 90) in the top-five leagues.
Che Adams: more tackles than 89% of strikers.
Danny Ings: more blocks than 98% of strikers.
Stuart Armstrong: more tackles than 97% of attacking midfielders and wingers.
Expending so much energy out of possession can pay off big time, as we saw at the start of this season. But it is tough to keep this up when you look beyond our starting XI.
It’s basically just kids.
Nathan Tella has probably done most to earn Ralph’s trust.
His performance at Sheffield United - more of that please, a hugely encouraging display.
But it is difficult to ignore his overall lack of goals and assists. He is young and will show improvement but Saints need impact players now.
Southampton’s most subbed-on player this season is Dan N’Lundulu. He’s come off the bench 12 times this season. A sign of faith in youth? Yes.
But our 3 substitute goals have come from Redmond, Ings, and Adams.
The Premier League is brutal. You need options, you need contributions off the bench to survive and thrive.
Relying on youth is good when, number 1 - the players are good enough, and number 2 - they are put in positions to succeed.
At the moment, the jury is out on number 1.
But number 2? You cannot argue the likes of Tella and N'Lundulu are being thrust into ideal situations.
You want to nurture youth, to bring it on in low-risk situations. Let them earn experience for tougher tests to come.
But Tella is being asked to come into the team and make up for poor performances elsewhere.
He is being looked to for that spark.
It is a mighty burden.
As for N'Lundulu, we have seen flashes but mostly just the lack of consistency that beguiles a young player finding his way in senior football.
On balance, it’s fair to say our academy graduates aren’t quite ready yet for consistent first-team football.
But right now, it’s needs must for Saints.
And that’s the problem.
Game's Gone
This is getting flicked off the table immediately.
Danny Last
Of course you can now buy a Subbuteo VAR referees set: https://t.co/vG1y8m3Lou
Episode 60 - International Break special
Episode 60 - International break special as OWTS podcast breaks down JWP and England, Che and Scotland, and more
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