Why England must use the Nations League to build towards Euro 2020

Why England must use the Nations League to build towards Euro 2020

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Why England must use the Nations League to build towards Euro 2020

The notion of the Nations League being a competitive competition has already been dismissed by many. A glorified round of friendlies it may seem, yet there are plenty that teams can take from their exertions in the tournament.

New ideas are often first laughed at and yes, UEFA have tried and failed with some horrendous proposals in years gone by. The intentions behind the Nations League are well thought and considerate, it being an attempt to shake up international football and eradicate the absolute dross of some of the friendlies that take place.

Whether that comes to fruition or not remains to be seen, with it more than plausible that teams decide not to take the competition seriously and it becomes something of a laughing stock. International breaks are often met with great distaste in this country, with Premier League supporters ultimately spoiled by the drama that unfolds each week in what is the most exciting league in world football.

England matches have lost their prestigiousness over recent years, yet the performance of the Three Lions in Russia has brought back a sense of pride and optimism when it comes to the national side. Expectations were limited yet a run to the semi-finals saw Gareth Southgate and his team lauded as national heroes. It was a tournament which made names of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier, whilst cementing Harry Kane’s place in World Cup history as the Golden Boot winner.

The players have reunited as a squad at St. George’s Park this week for the first time since leaving Russia in the aftermath of the Belgium loss and the squad has a very similar makeup to then. Nick Pope misses out through injury, while Gary Cahill and Jamie Vardy have now both retired from international football. Phil Jones and Ashley Young have both been dropped.

Included in their places are Southampton’s Alex McCarthy, Burnley’s James Tarkowski, Manchester United’s Luke Shaw and Liverpool pair Joe Gomez and Adam Lallana. Shaw appears most likely to start of the returning faces in place of Young, while Gomez and Lallana offer strong alternatives for the England manager to consider for the starting XI.

There are plenty of options for Southgate to consider, with there being a good case to make for a different player in almost every position other than in goal and up front, where both Pickford and Kane are definite picks. That said, the strength of Southgate’s squad suggests that England won’t be taking these fixtures lightly and will aim to win this game against Spain.

The fact the majority of the squad remains the same as the one which travelled to Russia also points towards continuity in selection. Raheem Sterling has pulled out of the squad due to injury, but Southgate has opted against bringing in a replacement, leaving Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck as the two supporting forwards to Kane.

Had Southgate been in a more experimental mood, he may well have opted to bring in one of England’s talented young guns such as Ryan Sessegnon, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho, all of whom have been tipped to break into the senior side in the next few years. Instead it is, for the most part, all tried and tested that are included in the squad other than McCarthy, who is the only uncapped player in the squad.

Southgate was right to stay loyal to those that had performed so brilliantly during the World Cup and it is of real importance that England can continue to build momentum and a winning culture within the senior setup. With the recent success of the youth teams, it is also imperative that those with experience of winning at international level from a younger ago are also slowly but surely integrated into the fold.

The time will come for the likes of Sessegnon, Foden and Sancho, but the immediate priority has to be picking up from where they left off in June and July. Coming so close will have given the England players present a taste of success and hunger for more. They must use the pain of their semi-final defeat against Croatia to spur them on to further success.

The Nations League gives them the opportunity to flex their muscle on the international stage and although it may not yet hold any level of prestige, it is still a new piece of silverware up for grabs. The more experience the players have of winning in a competitive environment, the better suited they will be when it comes to World Cups and European Championships.

Game management was a real issue for England against Croatia, as they lacked the knowhow of how to effectively close the game out. They were poor in possession, giving the ball away far too often and reverted backwards to Pickford to launch it forward every time Croatia triggered a press.

These Nations League games will give England far better practise of dealing with situations they are likely to face in the major tournaments far more often than any international friendly or qualifier against European minnows. It is only a simulation of course, but could go a long way to helping the team grow and develop over the next two years when the serious business takes place again at Euro 2020.

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