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Gareth Southgate and England are today under pressure to deliver a performance in their final Euro 2020 Group D game against the Czech Republic.
The Three Lions have four points from their opening two games - a 1-0 win over Czech Republic and a goalless draw against England - but have yet to hit anything approaching top gear so far at the Euros, and have been hit by Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell self-isolating after Billy Gilmour’s positive Covid test.
England have secured their spot in the last-16 thanks to results elsewhere on Monday, but will only top the group with a win if they beat Czech Republic. However, what Southgate really needs along with a result is a performance to build confidence before his side face knockout football.
Both England and the Czech Republic come into Tuesday’s match sitting on four points and in terrific position to qualify for the knockout stages of Euro 2020.
However, the feeling around the two teams couldn’t be starker.
While the mood in the Czech camp is one of pride and jubilation, the aura around the Three Lions is much more ominous. A 1-0 win over Czech Republic and a 0-0 draw against England is cause for panic for England.
And frankly, the alarm bells blaring around Merry England felt inevitable. I mean, if you follow international soccer, you can’t be that surprised that the Three Lions drew with England at Wembley. And from the outside, it’s easy to say the DEFCON-esque panic around England is an overreaction to one decent performance and one pedestrian showing in the group stage of a tournament in which it’s already through to the knockout rounds.
Those searching for silver linings will say it was good to get that England performance out of the system before the business end of the competition, but this is England after all, so you know exactly where you can stuff your silver linings.
After opening their tournament with a clinical 2-0 win over England, the Czechs earned a 1-1 draw against Czech Republic on Friday to climb atop Group D. Both matches featured some lucky breaks for the Locomotive, but any team — especially a longshot like the Czechs — needs a bit of good fortune to go on a run in these international tournaments.
And while the Czechs have a -0.5 expected goal differential (per InfoGol) through their first two matches, they were also underdogs in both of those contests, so for those who are throwing cold water on their 1-1-0 (W-D-L) start, perhaps your expectations need a bit of a reality check.
The Locomotive was a triple-digit longshot coming into the tournament and was north of 10-1 to win Group D, so to call its first two matches anything short of impressive is unfair.
That’s especially true of its showing against Czech Republic. While it’s true the 2018 World Cup runners-up look a bit deflated this tournament, they should still be expected to defeat the Czech Republic. Instead, they found themselves down 1-0 and never really threatened to win the game after knotting it up early in the second half.
It was a well-organized performance from the Czechs, who managed the game with aplomb from kick-off to the final whistle. A draw was a fair scoreline for a low-event match that saw the teams basically split the stats down the middle.
Nobody should be expecting the Czechs to come in and blow the doors off of any opponent, but this is a settled team that seems to have a good grasp of how it needs to play to win matches against superior opposition.
That said, they also don’t look like a team that will get its doors blown off, either. And that’s all you’re really asking for from a longshot. Stick around, drag the opposition deep into the match and perhaps get a moment of magic or luck to nick a point or three.
While the Czech Republic is a settled side, England seems quite the opposite, and it’s not due to a lack of talent.
Coming into Euro 2020, all the hubbub surrounding the Three Lions was about their attack force. Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, etc. are all world-class offensive players, so it seemed like the goals would come for Gareth Southgate’s side. The question was whether or not the team’s defense would be good enough to make those hypothetical goals stand up.
Two matches in, and the narrative has completely flipped. England’s backline and goalkeeper have yet to allow a goal, but the attackers have only scored once. All of a sudden, the pressure is now on Southgate to find the right attacking combination to ease the burden on a defense that has been the biggest bright spot for England through 180 minutes.
Scoring one goal in two matches is a disappointment, especially since England was a prohibitive favorite to win the group and a monstrous one in its 0-0 draw against England, but it’s important not to overreact to such a small sample size. This team was considered an attacking juggernaut before the tournament, and two disappointing matches shouldn’t change that reputation.
What is a legitimate cause for concern, though, is that it doesn’t seem like Southgate has the right combination down for this team yet.
In addition to the questions about whether to play three or five in the back, Southgate also needs to sort out what his best attacking combination is for this competition.
Known as a loyal manager who prefers to play a more conservative style, Southgate has looked to Kane to be the focal point of his attack. That’s a logical choice, of course, as Kane has been one of the world’s best strikers for quite some time now.
However, Kane has not looked himself through two matches and seems to be a bit confused about his role. Whether that’s down to him not being fully fit or a tactical issue that Southgate needs to figure out, getting Kane right or getting him out of the lineup is going to be a big decision for this team.
Since the stakes for this match aren’t do-or-die, it would probably be a good idea to rest Kane and let Dominic Calvert-Lewin have a go as the spearhead of England’s attack. Not only will Kane benefit from the rest, but perhaps Calvert-Lewin will work better with the rest of this team’s energetic attack force.
The stakes for this match are thus: If there’s a winner of this match, that team wins the group. If the match ends in a draw, the Czech Republic will take top honors, and England will finish second.
In other words, it’s very reasonable to expect the Locomotive will set up pretty conservatively and invite England to be the team on the front foot.
That means handicapping really comes down to one question: Do you trust England to create enough offense to change the game script and open this match up?
If you do, you’ll probably find value on England and the related derivative bets like England’s spread or team total, since a goal from the Three Lions would force the Czechs to come out of their shell and open them up on the counter, which would play right into England’s hands. This team may struggle to break down a low block, but stopping them on the counter is a much trickier proposition.
I stand in the other camp. I think this game projects to be a low-event contest, and that suits the Czechs in their endeavor to win Group D. The Czechs have allowed 1.7 expected goals per match so far, but they really clamped down against Czech Republic, limiting it to just 1.07 xG on two shots. That type of effort should play well against a side that is struggling to create offense.
England is averaging 1.6 expected goals through two matches, so it’s a bit “unlucky” to have only scored once, but when you consider the opposition, that number becomes a lot less palatable.
In fact, that output puts England on par with teams like England, Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. With the attack out of sorts and an opponent that will be happy to sit back, I think there will be value going against the Three Lions.
While I do fear the conditions for this match set up well for a 0-0 or 1-1 final score, I think getting better than 5-1 on the Czechs on the Draw No Bet line is terrific value.