Euro 2020: still work to do for Gareth Southgate’s ‘ruthless’ England
Three Lions finish qualification campaign with 37 goals in eight matches
Euro 2020 qualifying group A Kosovo 0 England 4
Another Euro 2020 qualifier, another emphatic England win as the Three Lions finished their campaign for next summer’s tournament with a 4-0 thrashing of Kosovo.
Although the scoreline flattered the visitors, the final table does not, with England finishing six points clear of second place Czech Republic, who lost last night to Bulgaria.
The goal difference between the two sides is a staggering 29 with England having scored 37 and conceded just six in their eight matches.
As the cliche says, you can only beat what’s in front of you and England did that with ease in all but seven of their matches, the slip up coming with a 2-1 defeat in Prague last month.
Seeds of doubt
Nonetheless England will head to the European Championships as one of the top six seeds but still not entirely sure that they have a trophy-winning squad.
It took them 32 minutes to break down the doughty Kosovans, with the impressive Harry Winks sending a low drive into the corner of the net, and it wasn’t until the final 11 minutes that the floodgates opened enabling Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mason Mount to put a gloss on the scoreline that neither side deserved.
Tight and tough
“It was a tight game and a good test for us,” said England boss Gareth Southgate, who fielded a much-changed side to the one that put seven past Montenegro last Thursday.
“It was a difficult pitch, with players slipping and passes going astray. We needed a tighter game and a challenge. I’m happy we got that.”
Southgate will be happy, too, with the fact that England have scored 38 goals in 2019, one short of their record set in 1908.
Asked what needed improving in the months ahead, the England manager replied: “The set-plays in particular are something we have to look at. There have been too many people free in the box and chances given away.
“We know there is still a bit of work to do but I can’t fault the players in this campaign, they’ve been ruthless.”
No one has been more clinical than captain Kane, who has scored in all eight Euro 2020 qualifiers, and will be hoping he carries his form into the next calendar year which, for England, kicks off with a friendly in late March against a nation still to be confirmed.
“As a striker I want to score goals and to win games,” said Tottenham striker Kane. “I love scoring, any striker does, hopefully I can keep that going into next summer.”
What the pundits are saying about England’s Euro 2020 prospects
Phil McNulty, BBC Sport
“It is not right to be churlish after such a qualification but the impression remains that this England can be a mixed bag and will suffer against opposition of the highest quality.”
Jason Burt, The Daily Telegraph
“To be relatively subdued, at times unconvincing, and to strike four times shows a threat to any opponent.”
“Southgate has plenty to think about over the winter months after what was a disjointed display for large periods, with Kosovo threatening a shaky defence and the midfield dynamic still not looking quite right.”
Roy Keane, ITV Sport
“England got sucked into sloppy defending again. If the same players keep making the same mistakes you have to make changes.”
Duncan Wright, The Sun
“If England don't find an answer to their midfield fragility they will be exposed next summer… Southgate has a real weakness right in the spine of his side which he now only has two friendlies to sort out before he has to name his squad.”