The days of yore have been a dull, grey age. They’ve been full of heartache, disappointment and misery. They’ve been tedious, uninspiring and flat.
Now, an unexpected hero is ushering in a new era of hope. Gareth Southgate, a man who irons his bedsheets, has brought a refreshing wave of dynamism and flair to the green and pleasant shores of England.
Facing off against Panama in Sunday’s euphoric triumph, the Three Lions bagged six with impressive assuredness.
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The side looked set up to win with expressive, expansive football which boasted confidence and conviction in its own ability to succeed. The first half was a masterclass in free-flowing attack and one thing in particular stood out: England’s set-piece majesty.
Does Southgate – despite his shortcomings penalty-wise – hold a secret key to England’s World Cup glory? We think so.
Two penalties, a free kick and a corner secured four of the six goals that honoured the name of St George and Billy Shakespeare. Two thirds of the celebrations derived from a set-piece and England haven’t had it that good since the days of David Beckham.
Kieran Trippier is an unlikely succession of that golden-haired poster boy, but he does the job surprisingly well.
Southgate has clearly drilled his boys with serious attention and the build-up play to John Stones’ second was nothing short of spectacular. This is all the more important during a World Cup governed and defined by VAR.
Love it or hate it, an extra pair of eyes leads to far more decisions being awarded in the more crucial attacking areas.
Set piece talent, then, becomes essential for a successful side. Every time England had the ball from a decision in their favour in Panama’s half, they threatened their opposition with tantalisingly tense chances.
Balls were driven deep, high and accurately. It appears that the gaffer has the Lions on a tight, well organised leash. The results, as we saw, are emphatic.
Moving forward, with football and technology becoming an ever more associated affair, Southgate may have found the break-through to victory. In the following years, we’ll undoubtedly see greater set-piece football, a larger focus on the skill and a higher frequency of converted chances.
Southgate is not a particularly remarkable man, but he’s glimpsed into the future with this England side and shown some impressive foresight.
Surely Sam Allardyce will have watched that game, in a dingy bar somewhere in the heart of Magaluf, and despaired.
We’ve been tortured over the years and hit lows of debilitating pain, but something joyous is on the horizon.
Even if England don’t make it past the next round – though they will, don’t fear – they can take pride in the crisp, attacking football they’ve mastered.
Set-piece competence is essential for an attacking side during this era of close surveillance. England will succeed if they carry on in the manner they showed against Panama.
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