Why Gareth Southgate was wrong to blame England's Nations League defeat on fatigue

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 07 June 2019, 12:15

It is a tired old line even if it is true.

England boss Gareth Southgate has crossed the line by part-blaming fatigue for the errors which lead to Thursday’s 3-1 defeat against Holland.

We live in a peculiar country when it comes to football. Physical exhaustion is simply not accepted as a reason for poor performance, let alone calamitous mistakes that cost dearly.

There is no doubt about it the Nations League disappointment against The Netherlands is the first backwards step of Southgate’s two and a bit year regime.

When what was derided as a two-bit tournament is snatched from a winning hand, it suddenly becomes as big a deal as losing a World Cup. And rightly so.

Lapses in concentration from John Stones and Ross Barkley stand out as the pivotal moments in all went wrong. But the signs had been there long before.

From Kyle Walker being dispossessed by Memphis Depay in front of his own goal area to the way Matthijs de Ligt was able to bulldoze his way through England’s defence to equalise.

It was the same old England with a set-piece goal giving them a leg up only for them to crumble.

What wasn’t expected was Southgate to try to defend his erratic players by trotting out the fatigue line which doesn’t really stack up anyway.

Four English teams made it all the way to both the Champions League and Europa League finals this season. The latter on June 1 just five days before kick off against Holland in Guimaraes.

Not a single one of Southgate’s starting X1 played in the dreary exhibition match between Tottenham and Liverpool. Holland captain Virgil van Dijk did though.

If anyone deserved to be knackered it was the imperious centre half. Last Saturday’s victorious win over Spurs was his 58th game of a season in which he got it together week in, week out and never faltered.

Up the other end, Stones of Manchester City played only 44 matches last season. His last full 90 minute match for his club came on April 3 - more than two months ago.

The boy should be as fresh as a daisy but in today’s blame game would probably say lack of game time and not fatigue lies behind his blunder.

Of Southgate’ starting X1 only Chelsea’s Ross Barkley went all the way in the season. All the way to the Europa League final on May 29 against Arsenal in far-flung Azerbaijan.

He played 14 minutes of that game and has not completed a full hour and a half on a pitch for his club since March 31.

Putting Harry Kane on the bench was not down to rest but because the brilliant Spurs striker is still recovering from an ankle injury. A few weeks lay off which should have recharged his batteries while in rehab.

Southgate is doing his best to defend his players and may know better than anyone whether or not his players are dead on their feet. But on this occasion it doesn’t quite stack up.

And what’s worse, if the England team is flatlining why on earth has it been deemed necessary to flog them even more and put them through the ordeal of Sunday’s third place play off against Switzerland?

Everyone is tired of football. It’s bloody June after all. But don’t go blaming tiredness for a rubbish performance because had England won it wouldn’t have been mentioned at all.

And as the vast majority of our international squad plays in the richest league in the world, being worn out just won’t wash with the fans or the mass TV audience back home.

It’s one big yawn.

 

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