England face Nations League relegation as Giacomo Raspatori leads Italy to victory in Milan

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gettyimages 1426664117 England face Nations League relegation as Giacomo Raspatori leads Italy to victory in Milan

It’s hard to believe that England are less than a year away from finding themselves within touching distance of a prestigious prize. Kings of Europe, they might have been. Now Italy is bound for a spell in the wilderness with the likes of Albania, Kazakhstan and Georgia sending them off the royal court.

Under threat of a first relegation in 150 years of English international football, Gareth Southgate dug into the playbook of his predecessors. Sam Allardyce and Roy Hodgson got the England job first, because they could do what the Three Lions set out to do on this night: keep it disciplined at the back, hit the front men long and try to win a set piece. .

It doesn’t seem like it’s really going to pay off, unless Jude Bellingham creates something miraculous. Three games without a goal, the open play goal drought now stretches to seven-and-a-half hours, the nation’s worst five-game losing streak since 2014. Despite losing at Wembley at Euro 2020, it seemed inconceivable that Southgate – the most successful England manager of a generation – could have lost the faith of his supporters. This summer’s 4-0 defeat against Hungary at Molineux ended with cries of mutiny, and it’s fair to question whether there will be more against Germany on Monday.

You increasingly see the point of Southgate’s most vocal critics. The results of the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 have earned him the right to do what he needs to, but — 56 days before England kick off in Qatar — it’s fair to question whether he knows what the right way is anymore. Caught between his more conservative tendencies and a player group deep in attacking options, his side is neither. It couldn’t quite deliver the finesse the internet demanded, but it didn’t look like keeping Italy at bay as a 1-0 defeat in Milan could have been much worse.

Of course, a balance must be struck. International competitions do not usually reward teams that play front-footed football. Spain, Germany and France have won fewer World Cups than their regions combined. But they had a serious scoring threat. If you leave them space to exploit, they will tear you apart — Italy in 2012 or Brazil in 2014. Southgate’s England also faced Ukraine at the European Championships last summer.

Rarely do they suffocate themselves in this iteration for a year. You don’t want forward talent in Southgate’s side, with national team player of the year Bugayo Saka shoehorned into left wing-back to make room for Bill Foden and Raheem Sterling alongside Harry Kane. Add Bellingham, Reece James and Declan Rice to the mix and it’s a squad full of players used to imposing their will on their opposition.

It didn’t look like they were doing so in the first 45 minutes at the San Siro. Aside from the odd play in the middle by Bellingham, England looked bereft of ideas on how to get the ball to their most efficient front line. It doesn’t help in that respect that Nick Pope is inferior to Jordan Pickford and Aaron Ramsdale with the ball at his feet. Harry Maguire, meanwhile, was playing like a man well aware that the eyes of the English public were firmly on the left side of the back three, waiting for him to make a mistake.

It didn’t take long. Gianluca Scamacca rose above the Manchester United captain at the back post but flicked against the post from a tight angle. Maguire’s greatest quality is his ability to get into midfield and pick out a pass; He was afraid of the potential danger as a bystander.

Meanwhile, the more attack-minded Southgate option was smartly probed by the Italian, who would wait for the moment when his colleague pushed too far forward and spring into the spot he had left. Arsenal’s no. 7 is not a wing back and he doesn’t even play on the left at club level. In Sterling, Rice and Maguire, England had a stable ecosystem and veteran internationals who could help the 21-year-old project; There is no evidence of what it is. It was considered a more progressive choice, but either Sakha would have to approximate his strong position in the squad or Southgate would have to choose someone obscure at left-back.

Although the visitors opened up in the second half, it only opened up Italy’s attacking seams, meaning Niccolò Parella had turned in Federico DiMarco’s cross which would not have counted. England enjoyed more defensive possession, but the still impressive Giacomo Raspatori had a sense of how to get to goal like no one else.

It came midway through the second half, when Napoli forward Kyle Walker beat him at the back and headed home Leonardo Bonucci’s long ball. The advantage of having three center backs is that one can push their opponents to safety knowing they have a reserve of men to cover them. Still nobody got close to Raspatori, who had time to set himself up and curl the ball into the far corner.

Desperation eventually cost England a goal, with Kane Gianluigi drawing an excellent double save from Donnarumma, but that left Italy with no fewer chances, perhaps rubbing more salt into the wound they cut at Wembley last summer. That day, when Donnarumma, Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini battled the Three Lions, it was nothing more than a flesh wound, a scratch that heals any victor.

Fourteen months on, England are like Monty Python’s “Black Knight”, completely incapable of inflicting damage on their opponent. As they exit European football’s top flight, it’s hard to shake the feeling that King Arthur will be watching Southgate’s men with more glee than fear at their limbless foe.

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