What an eerie feeling it is to see an England team so united, so talented, and led so admirably by their manager.
Even stranger that the feel-good vibes of 2018 still hover over the fan base and that England deserve their status as second favourites to win a European Championship that, with potentially six of seven games at Wembley, will play out largely on home soil.
England supporters are not used to this mix of legitimate optimism and genuine pride in the squad they will be supporting this summer.
And yet the giddy atmosphere heading into Euro 2020 and the heartfelt affection for Gareth Southgate is more precarious than it seems.
Southgate’s probable tactics and line-up
Southgate will most likely plump for the 3-4-3 against Croatia to provide greater defensive cover against the strongest opponent in Group D, with Kyle Walker among the centre-backs.
In central midfield, Southgate may go for two holding players in Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice, although it is plausible he will start Jude Bellingham or Mason Mount to create a little bit more fluidity in the middle.
But it won’t be the free-flowing attacking football many fans crave. There is simply no evidence that Southgate is willing to take that risk this summer, and instead England will probably rely on creativity from Harry Kane, Phil Foden, and Raheem Sterling.
Then again, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford could all start; there are a lot of unknowns on the eve of the tournament.
Why Southgate’s caution might work
Although some worry that Southgate’s defensive instincts – so effective with a below-par squad in 2018 – are no longer suited to England’s superb young attack, there is reason to believe it is the correct approach.
Deschamps possesses the most talented squad in international football and yet his similarly closed-off approach has proved to be the right way to win a tournament.
But could prove his downfall…
However, the public mood could sour if England struggle to pick up positive results in the group stages while deploying a more defensive formation and line-up.
There has been a clamour in recent months to integrate more of England’s attacking players into the team, with many onlookers hoping for a 4-3-3 crammed with the more explosive options.
One of the unspoken worries of the tournament ahead is a difficult-looking last 16 game likely to be against Germany, France, or Portugal.
If England look laboured in the group stages or go out in the second round without having given many minutes to fans’ favourites Grealish, then Southgate will suddenly be under significant pressure.
It doesn’t matter if his approach is right or wrong for international football. If England fall short, then the easy narrative will be to declare he was not courageous enough and is not the right person to make the most of England’s new golden generation.
Frank Lampard, renowned for working with young English players and for playing gung-ho attacking football, would be available.
It is not inconceivable that supporters and the media will call for a change unless Southgate takes England deep into the tournament – and in style.
This summer has already taught us the England fan base still retains a nasty, toxic streak. Too much caution, too few attackers on the pitch, and the love for Southgate could rapidly diminish.
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