I had hoped to have this part up on Monday evening, but then two classic games of football broke out 🙂
Considering that the Czechs beat the Dutch on Sunday and Croatia put three past Spain in a valiant losing effort yesterday, I think we can be pleased with having beaten both of them without conceding a goal. I know group stage games are usually more about jockeying for position than anything else – unless of course you’re Scottish, when earning a point and scoring precisely one goal is seen as a national triumph – but nonetheless our results in Group D don’t look half as shabby as the pundits would have had you believe a couple of weeks ago.
The big problem I can see for England this evening is that although we’ve gone nine games without losing and have kept eight clean sheets whilst doing so, we haven’t scored more than one goal against the opposition since battering San Marino in March. Harry Kane hasn’t scored in any of the last five and hasn’t scored for England from open play since notching against Albania in March.
I wonder if it’s time for Gareth Southgate to consider other options upfront, because the downside of another game in which Kane fails to make an impression might mean yet another defeat by Germany. It’s not like we’ve never been in this situation before. I mentioned to a friend during the game against the Czechs that Alf Ramsey had to make changes when Jimmy Greaves was injured before the 1966 Quarter Final against Argentina; considering that Dominic Calvert-Lewin have scored as many goals as Kane in the last ten I wonder if the Everton striker deserves a chance in a big game in the same way Geoff Hurst did when he replaced Greaves. However, replacing Kane would mean choosing another captain: Jordan Henderson would be the obvious choice.
Additionally, Kane is the only player to have appeared in eight of the last ten games but he’s only completed three of those matches. For someone who expressed a desire to leave Spurs, he’s not done a particularly good job of advertising himself to other clubs: I wonder if this is one of the stories that develops after the tournament finishes – possibly along the line of he’s been playing with an injury since February, needs off season surgery etc. It’s all very well being loyal to players who aren’t having a great run of form, but that can often have a detrimental effect on other team members: Southgate gets paid a fair whack for this job and needs to be able to take difficult decisions.
That being said, despite obvious experimentation before the tournament, Southgate has been pretty consistent with his team selection during this tournament with ten players having started at least two of the three games. Mason Mount‘s enforced isolation after Billy Gilmour’s positive Covid test after the Scotland match was the reason why Buyako Saka was selected against the Czechs – and Mount is going to find it difficult to get his place back after the teenaged Arsenal midfielder had such a good game. The only other issues I can see are if Harry Maguire keeps his place in defence or not, if Phil Foden starts – that’s not guaranteed – and who Marcus Rashford will replace.
Having such a good defence presents an analytical problem. As we’ve only conceded three goals in the last ten games, it’s almost impossible to present a case for when England are most likely to conceed a goal – although the two goals Belgium scored in the Nations League defeat last November were both before 30 minutes had elapsed. Offensively, it’s far clearer: half of England’s first half goals in the last ten games have been scored between the 16th and 30th minute with 44% of our second half goals being scored in the final fourteen minutes – if you read part one of this preview, you’ll know that’s significant as that’s exactly when Germany are vulnerable.
In context of other six round of 16 games, four were eventually won by the team ranked higher in the most recent FIFA rankings – good news for England, who are currently 77 points ahead of Germany, which is about the same as the difference between us and Croatia in our first game of the tournament. Half of the games in this round so far have gone to extra time with an average of 3.16 goals per game scored in 90 minutes but possibly the most significant factor is that tonight’s game is the only Round of 16 match where one of the participants has home advantage. So far only 50% of games where one side had home advantage have been won by the hosts, but 41% of the remaining matches finished all square.
It’s tough to be objective considering the amount of history between the two countries – football or otherwise – especially when your first memories of supporting England are based the first time we ever lost to West Germany in a home game (1-3, Euro 72 Quarter Final, April 29th 1972 – it was 1-1 with seven minutes left!). However, as I wrote in the first part of this preview, this is not a vintage German team by any measure and this afternoon’s game is a good chance to finally earn a first win over Germany in England since December 1935.
I just hope it doesn’t go to bloody penalties again.