Gareth the gambler? It's time to twist not stick

England's Phil Foden has struggled playing on the left. Credit: AP

There is one line in country legend Kenny Rogers’ signature hit that sums up the conundrum facing Gareth Southgate right now, it goes: "Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin' / is knowin' what to throw away and knowing’ what to keep."

Now the manager has been called many things since England’s dismal Denmark showing, but ‘gambler’ almost certainly isn’t one of them. We know from tournaments past that Southgate has developed a reputation for safety first as opposed to risk-taking football, and that is unlikely to change. However, surely, he’s seen enough in Germany to know now is the time to twist, not stick.

If Southgate doesn’t give the obvious issues urgent attention, he will fall foul of Albert Einstein’s enduring definition of insanity - ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.'

So, what are those issues?

Well, to start with the Three Lions are not functioning effectively in one third of the pitch - the left-hand side. Kieran Tripper has done pretty well given he’s playing on the wrong flank, but his link with Phil Foden is not working, and besides that Foden doesn’t want to be patrolling that touchline anyway.

It’s not where he plays for Manchester City, and it’s not where his extraordinary talents are best showcased.

England's Phil Foden has struggled playing on the left. Credit: PA

Also, the Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment is not working well enough to justify another outing. He is one of too many square pegs in round holes. Not only does he look lost at times but his presence there is impacting Declan Rice who is essentially baby-sitting.

What are Southgate’s options?

He could give tournament starts to Adam Wharton or Kobbie Mainoo, or he could ask Jude Bellingham to drop deeper, allowing Foden to move centrally. If he did that, it would allow Anthony Gordon to start wide on the left.

In another shuffle, which would be harsh on Trippier, Joe Gomez would be comfortable in the left-back role; he’s turned out there more than a dozen times for Liverpool this season in the Premier League.

With all these options at least the players would be occupying similar positions to where they operate at their clubs.

Another piece of required surgery is the press. It’s a mess, alarmingly highlighted by Harry Kane after the Denmark debacle when he said that the team was "not sure" how to operate it. While the England captain probably didn’t intend it, that was a screeching dog whistle reflecting badly on Southgate and his coaching staff.

The team simply has to play further up the pitch. Not doing so as we’ve seen, especially in the second halves of both games, just invites pressure and encourages panic.

England looked lost and distinctly second best the more the Serbia and Denmark games wore on.

The media, some television pundits (Gary Lineker described the Denmark performance as ‘s**t’) and fans on their social channels, are piling into England and Southgate.

Jarred Bowen, a bright spark both times he’s been introduced from the bench says the squad is not phased; "The mood is really high, and you try not to get involved in the outside world because you know what we've got is a real tight group and real togetherness.

"We’re sat here with four points, and it’s probably the standards that we've set that, you know it’s not two wins, but it's still four points, we’re still top of the group and in control of our own destiny."

Likewise, combative keeper Jordan Pickford says the criticism and the enormity of the occasion is not a reason to shrink, in fact the opposite is true.

"Sometimes you’ve got to enjoy the pressure, it’s something I do, I enjoy the pressure of these big tournaments, the fans, the pressure of it all, it's something I thrive on… Us as players, we can cope with, we’re calm and relaxed, and we have those experiences of past tournaments, where we can help maybe the newer lads or build on those experiences."

A win against Slovenia and more importantly a commanding performance would probably change everything.

With a general election looming, you will have been told many times over the past month that a week is a long time in politics. In football a long time is 90 minutes.

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