IAN LADYMAN: England should not fear Ukraine… Gareth Southgate needs one FINAL push from his players and then something truly special is in their reach – only a huge dip in standards from the Germany triumph would see the Three Lions falter
- Gareth Southgate and his England squad are bidding to make history at Euros
- England face a huge quarter-final against Ukraine, who are not a team to fear
- Southgate believes the threat is real as his players adjust from beating Germany
- Beat Ukraine, then a semi-final vs Denmark or the Czech Republic awaits
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
Gareth Southgate told a lovely story on Friday about the toll exacted on him by managing at a big summer tournament.
Southgate, a most measured man, is always careful to keep his role and that of his team in proper perspective, especially during times that have been so truly dreadful for many over the last 18 months. He is always reluctant to use the word ‘pressure’ for example.
Nevertheless his job as England manager is important and demanding in its own right so when he was asked before leaving for Rome on Friday if he had managed to get any down-time during Euro 2020, he smiled.
Gareth Southgate and his England side face are looking to make history this summer at Euros
‘I haven’t found that possible in these last four weeks,’ he said. ‘The time I give myself I do exercise, so I run or use the gym. There have been a couple of afternoons where I’ve been able to get an hour’s kip to catch up.
‘The tournaments are so intense. I can be in meetings at eight in the morning or finishing analysis at 11 at night. It is just the nature of it and I know there will be a period in a couple of weeks where my family will see me asleep a lot because that’s what happened after Russia and the World Cup.
‘They were taking all sorts of ridiculing pictures of me in various venues for a few weeks on holiday. I was basically just falling asleep everywhere so it became a standing joke really.’
Images of Southgate deep in slumber in deckchairs, cars, planes and hotel lobbies immediately came to mind. But the familial ribbing can wait. The England boss and his players have another job to do on Saturday night in the Stadio Olimpico. And hopefully two more after that. There is a week of this tournament to run and it’s time for one final push.
‘We all enjoyed the Germany game,’ said defender Harry Maguire on Friday. ‘The whole day — or call it an event — was an incredible feeling for us all. But the morning after we recovered and the evening after we had a meeting and we spoke about it.
‘The message was, “Right, it’s time to prepare and focus on another tough game on Saturday”. We know the threats that Ukraine bring. They are a tough team, a good team with great principles.’
The Three Lions boss plans to sleep a lot after the tournament – and that can wait with something special in the offing
The World Cup in Russia took a heavy toll on him and he finds major tournaments ‘intense’
The truth is that Ukraine are not a particularly great team, not by the standards of the last eight of a major tournament. They finished third in their group, having lost to Holland and Austria. Their last 16 victory came in the death throes of extra time against a Sweden team playing with 10 men.
So, no, Ukraine are not a team to fear. They should be beaten. Which is why it is probably only appropriate to say that the only thing that can undo England is a significant drop of the standards they set against the Germans.
In Southgate’s mind that threat appears to feel real and that is heartening. You could assemble any number of psychologists to talk to his players but the only people who can really make the required shift from the headiness of last Tuesday at Wembley to the rather more pragmatic and professional approach needed on Saturday night are the fellows on the field.
‘I think, physically, we are going to be in a great position,’ added Maguire. ‘People will say we will be tested mentally but we need to make sure that, as a group of players, we are prepared for that.’
Trying to play well as a team throughout a whole tournament is more difficult than it appears. Few sides in history have done it, even those who have gone on to win.
Harry Maguire echoes his boss’ feeling that the team must switch their attention to the Ukraine game after their famous win over Germany
Southgate is wary of the threat Ukraine possess and trusts his players to respect them
The important thing is to trend in the right direction and after the disappointment of the draw against Scotland, wins against Czech Republic and Germany have set England’s compass to north.
Equally heartening ahead of Saturday’s challenge is the continued resoluteness of England’s defence. Jordan Pickford hasn’t played quite as spell-bindingly as some have suggested but has been reliable and calm while the players in front of the goalkeeper have perhaps performed a little better than many of us feared.
On Saturday night, Southgate is expected to revert to a back four which feels about right for a night when England can expect to have a lot of the ball. We should not expect Ukraine to be particularly ambitious — extra time would suit them once again — which means that England’s extra attacking player, in all likelihood Mason Mount, will be valuable.
It’s a strange game, this one. Had it been another super power, it would not have been that difficult for Southgate’s players to spike their adrenaline levels.
But only a huge drop in in standards set in the Germany game could see England falter here
But instead it does have a bit of an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ feel about it. From that point of view, it’s important England get on the front foot early.
There was much talk of Iceland in Euro 2016 during Southgate’s press rounds on Friday but there is no reason for them to fear such an implosion.
This England team have a little more about them and their manager is not the kind to lie awake at night contemplating failure.
Southgate’s deckchair can wait a while. Something truly special remains within reach.
The England boss is expected to unleash his creative players and get the team on the front foot
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