The Chalkboard: What Gareth Southgate’s bold selections suggest about how he’ll take on Croatia

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Gareth Southgate sprung plenty of surprises with his latest England squad selection, not least with providing first call ups for the likes of Leicester City’s James Maddison, Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah and Chelsea loanee Mason Mount. With two competitive away fixtures with Croatia and Spain coming up, these surprise inclusions perhaps indicate a slight change in the manager’s approach.

On the chalkboard

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Whilst England have already made tremendous progress under the 48-year-old’s guidance, there is still work to be done if they’re to build upon their World Cup semi-final appearance. At times, the Three Lions lacked cutting edge in Russia, and if they’re to consistently challenge the top international teams they must become a more aggressive, potent outfit.

Southgate appears to be aware of this, and the selection of the aforementioned uncapped group looks to be an attempt to add some attacking verve and incision to his side. Against Croatia’s ageing defence, should they be given the chance, the likes of Maddison, Sancho and Mount have the capacity to wreak havoc with their youthful exuberance, flair and abundant pace. 

If Southgate is planning a stylistic shift towards something more fast-paced and aggressive for the upcoming Nations League fixtures, then he must ensure that his side are appropriately set up to deal with this new approach.

Striking the balance

If Southgate does implement a faster, more direct style, England must be wary of being caught on the counter-attack. The wing-backs, especially, must remain diligent in their defensive positioning and awareness.

Equally, should Chalobah get the nod to play an anchoring role in the middle of the park, his discipline and ability to cover vacated spaces in order to neutralise vulnerabilities will be paramount . For all of the excitement over the young attacking talents who have made the trip, the Watford man could have a vital role to play.