Could football really be coming home? Optimism is growing ahead of England’s World Cup quarter-final tie with Sweden on Saturday.
The Three Lions edged past Colombia on penalties on Tuesday night to reach the last-eight for the first time since 2006. It’s the Swedes up next for Gareth and Southgate and co.
Blagult have been the surprise package in Russia after topping a group containing Germany, Mexico and South Korea. Now England are firmly in their sights.
We’ve identified four key things the Three Lions need to do if they’re to book their place in next Wednesday’s semi-final…
Neutralise the set-piece threat
England have looked vulnerable at the back throughout the tournament. But it’s their inability to deal with set-pieces which has caused the most concern.
Panama scored from a free-kick in the group stages, while Yerry Mina bagged Colombia’s equaliser direct from a corner.
More worrying for the Three Lions is that Sweden are side who like to whip the ball into the box.
The Swedes used their height advantage to significant effect in the opener. Two of their three goals against Mexico came as a result of a cross or a long throw too.
Forwards Marcus Berg, John Guidetti, Isaac Kiese Thelin and the veteran Ola Toivonen are all over 6ft in height, so England will need to be on their game in Samara.
Giving away silly fouls will also be high on Southgate’s list of things to avoid, with dead ball specialist Sebastian Larsson set to return for Sweden after missing the last-16 tie with Switzerland through suspension.
Keep Forsberg quiet
Emil Forsberg has been a name of the lips of European football fans for some time.
The 26-year-old has starred for RB Leipzig over the last three years and has stepped up to the plate in a big way in Russia. He scored the goal to send Sweden through in the last-16 too.
Billed as the “anti Zlatan” thanks to his unassuming nature, the winger is an artist in this team of grafters.
He’s wonderfully skilful and superbly gifted on the ball. England have not come up against a midfielder of similar quality at this World Cup so far.
Kieran Tripper, in particular, will need to be on his game to stem the influence of the tricky Swede.
Time to drop Alli?
It’s just not happening for Dele Alli in Russia. The Tottenham Hotspur ace was poor against Colombia on Tuesday and has lingering doubts over his fitness.
If truth be told, 2017-18 Alli has been a shade of the player who took the Premier League by storm in his debut season.
It seems harsh to criticise a player so young and inexperienced. But at the moment Alli isn’t living up to his own high-standards. We think it’s time to drop the 22-year-old as a result.
Recall for Ruben?
Ruben Loftus-Cheek appears to be the obvious replacement going forward. The Chelsea youngster integrated well into the side against Panama and Tunisia and gives England more of an impetus going forward.
His presence on the ball and ability to drive the play forward is something the Three Lions desperately lacked in Moscow.
He’s not overly dissimilar in his play to one Paul Gascoigne. England could do with those qualities against Sweden.
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