The clock is ticking for England's tinkerman … after a challenging week, Gareth Southgate has no time to rest as the Euro 2020 countdown begins
- It was a tough time for Gareth Southgate due to problems off the field
- Southgate has no time to rest as it must decide on its strongest team
- The head of England rotated frequently, but the countdown to Euro 2020 is at
The most challenging week in three years is over, so you might think it will allow Gareth Southgate a moment to sigh with relief.
Life is rarely simple for the England coach and the narrative of his last three months has been fraught with issues such as racism, the unruly behavior of traveling fans and a stupid misjudgment of an inexperienced staff member.
This was all before the last seven days, which were ruined by the notable loss of control of its most famous player in a private dining area in St George's Park.
It was a challenging week for Gareth Southgate, but there is still a lot of work for him to do.
Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez incident made things difficult for Southgate
They were most marked by Wembley's crowd boasting a senseless young professional he admires so much.
Now that the games against Montenegro and Kosovo are over, you can expect Southgate to take a moment to restart, but when you take up your position, things don't work that way: every second counts, every decision matters. The clock is now ticking.
England's first game at Euro 2020 is 210 days away. It may seem miles away, but when you reduce it, it's not time. England still have four friendlies to be organized before this big date on June 14, and we are still not close to knowing the identity of their best team.
Southgate has made a number of changes, but should now settle for its best start XI
This game in Kosovo was England's tenth game in 2019; Five changes to the formation that toppled Montenegro at Wembley last Thursday reinforced the notion that Southgate is a modern tinkerman – his combined total of changes for the calendar year ended at 43.
This is a remarkable figure, but you can be sure that the first half of 2020 will follow a similar pattern. How can you not? In other words, if the European Championship started next weekend, who would be in its initial formation?
The question has been placed elsewhere on these pages and there is no uniform answer. You suspect Southgate in particular is still unsure, because there are three areas that pose puzzles and you can guarantee that he will spend the four months to the next camp thinking about them nonstop.
One of the key issues for Southgate is deciding who should partner with Harry Maguire in defense.
Let's start with the center of defense: who is Harry Maguire's partner? Tyrone Mings got his chance on Sunday night and will be thrilled by his clean sheet, but there were times when he looked uncomfortable with possession, which is not a big sign that Southgate wants to play in the back.
John Stones is going through a rough period and it doesn't look the same as it was before the World Cup, while Joe Gomez is not getting enough minutes at Liverpool. To win a tournament, defensive solidity is a prerequisite. England still does not give the impression that they have it.
Then there is the midfield. If Southgate is committed to playing 4-3-3, who are the two who partner with Jordan Henderson? Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did not hurt himself during this camp, nor did the elegant Harry Winks, author of the opening goal. But has Declan Rice done enough? He has things to prove.
West Ham midfielder Declan Rice still has a lot to prove at next year's tournament
There are a group of 13 midfielders, including the unknown numbers of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden and renowned players like Ross Barkley and Dele Alli, which Southgate is expected to slow to six in the last 23 years. It is a task that will present you with numerous headaches.
To mention Southgate mentioning Paul Pogba's French trio Blaise Matuidi and Ngolo Kante as the gold standard in midfield last Wednesday shows how much he is praying in his mind. You do not win tournaments without exercising control in the middle and England must show that you are capable.
The final piece of the puzzle is the left flank – Marcus Rashford, whose guest starring tonight, Jadon Sancho or Callum Hudson-Odoi? Southgate thinks of the Hudson-Odoi world, but he has had a rough time before being replaced and you wonder if he is ready for that level at the moment.
Marcus Rashford made a cameo against Kosovo to increase his chances of starting
Graham Taylor has dubbed the managerial role of England "impossible work" and Southgate will surely have a greater understanding of what his predecessor said, considering everything that has gone on since the start of this campaign.
Yes, there are reasons to be positive – England will have no goals and the way they went from 1-0 to 4-0 in the blink of an eye here was exciting – but the goals alone do not lead teams to the biggest prizes.
Southgate told players that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, a chance to play in what is effectively a home tournament. For them to become immortal, the manager must find the answers. There is no time to lose.
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