There are several peculiarities that have come about due to the unprecedented scheduling of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The placement of the tournament in the winter (20th November – 18th December) means that most of the world’s club seasons have been interrupted, and, as a result, the games have come thick and fast over the last two months. Players look tired after fitting in so many games in competitions like the Premier League, Champions League, and the domestic cups in such a short space of time.
Another consequence of the scheduling is that some nations, including England, will play no warmup matches prior to the tournament. It’s a case of jumping straight into the action. For England and the 3 Lions manager Gareth Southgate that is a particular worry. Of all the “big” nations, it is England that looks most in a muddle. The talent is there in the squad, but not even Southgate’s harshest critics can agree on what his best team should be. They will, however, be the most vocal if Southgate does not get it right.
England Still Tipped to Do Well
On the face of it, things do not look so bad. England is still considered among the favorites with online sportsbooks like Mr Green betting, and the 3 Lions look to have a relatively easy group. There is also plenty of experience in a squad and coaching setup. Lest we forget, England reached the Semi-Finals in Russia four years ago, and it was just over a year ago that they reached the Final of the European Championships. Southgate has such a large pool of talented players to choose from that it seems likely he will leave £50 million+ players like Jadon Sancho and perhaps even Raheem Sterling at home. All the ingredients are there – or at least they should be.
But the results in 2022 have been awful for England. The team has not won for six games, a run of fixtures that include a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Hungary. With all due respect to the Hungarians, it was probably the biggest win in their recent history – the biggest since the glory days of Puskas and the Magical Magyars – but much of it was down to an insipid England performance. While England weren’t embarrassed by losses to Germany and Italy, it still doesn’t smack of the candidature of potential World Cup champions.
A Lack of Cohesion Must Be Addressed
So, where have things gone wrong? It’s difficult to say, and that in and of itself is a problem for Southgate. There seems to be a lack of balance in the side, one of those age-old problems of not being able to get your best players to play well together. Southgate tends to stick with players who have performed well for England in the past, and it’s one of the reasons that Harry Maguire, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Luke Shaw continue to appear despite having problems with their form. In attack, there has also been a disjointedness between the midfield and forward line. Harry Kane, the captain, will always get goals, but he needs the service.
The good news is that there are some bright spots. In recent weeks, Maguire and Shaw have got more game time for Manchester United, and Alexander-Arnold seems to have cut out some of the errors for Liverpool. But the brightest spot might just be Jude Bellingham, the Borussia Dortmund youngster who looks every inch the future superstar. The midfielder looks exactly the type of candidate who can provide the spark to reignite England’s fortunes. Marcus Rashford, too, has picked up his performances again, and we could easily see an axis of Rashford, Kane, and Phil Foden being fed by the guile of Bellingham from midfield.
Still, England will need to hit the ground running. The Group B draw pits them against the USA, Iran, and Wales. On paper, it looks like England should top the group. But Southgate will know all too well that it will mean very little once the tournament begins. This team has a high ceiling – perhaps greater than they are given credit for – but at the moment it looks like wasted potential. Time to prove the doubters wrong on the grandest stage of all in Qatar.