Paul Parker: England must improve... and make one change for Panama
England's performance against Tunisia was not good enough, despite claiming the three points, writes Paul Parker...
For 45 minutes it looked just like it should have done when England face Tunisia. The only problem was that one goal would never be enough.
England needed a second strike in the first half to kill them off and could’ve gone on to get more and more. But they never took advantage of their initial dominance and chances.
In the first half, they conceded a penalty and in today’s football – as ridiculous as it seems – yes, it was the right decision. You can’t be as blunt as you could a few years back: when you have players who are so weak emotionally and physically, those types of penalties will happen all the time.
A bigger problem was that they allowed Tunisia to pass the ball too much – and imbue themselves with more confidence. People talk about Harry Kane not getting two penalties for being wrestled to the ground. But you have to look past that and recognise the general performance in the second half was not good enough for a side who everyone is suggesting has moved on.
Harry Kane of England and Yassine Meriah of TunisiaGetty Images
It looked like the same old England. Yes, there have been changes off the pitch in recent years but when it comes to playing the match, you’d have to say it was similar to previous regimes: a lack of energy, ideas and penetration.
Yes, they scored a late goal and you can say ‘a win is a win’ but that’s a problem because I believe in performances when you are playing against a lesser team. Even if you win 1-0 and are luckless or a couple of outstanding saves by the goalie keep you out, you still beat them well and create the opportunities throughout the game.
Alli must make way
To that end, Southgate has a decision to make: does he drop Raheem Sterling or Dele Alli to improve England going forward?
I’d drop the Tottenham man, though his thigh injury might keep him out anyway, and bring in Marcus Rashford. The Manchester United forward has more energy tracking back and when he attacks he can go past people with the ball at his feet. Sterling tried but couldn’t do what he does for Manchester City. The problem for him is that the players he is surrounded by are not his club team-mates. So he is struggling for movement and for space and you can’t completely blame him.
Dele Alli and Nahim SlitiGetty Images
I’d stick Rashford up front with Kane and drop Sterling back into the midfield three, but that’s the only change I’d make. Panama are weaker than Tunisia and have to show more ambition after losing 3-0 to Belgium, who ground them down.
As for facing Roberto Martinez's men, they might want to change the team again. To take anything out of the game Southgate probably has to limit his ambition and play Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier together. They are the only two holding midfielders he has, but are they good enough to compete against the top players like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard? Can they handle them on the biggest stage? We just don’t know yet.
But if you are looking at blocking up play, they both have to play. Because if Eden Hazard drops deep and manages to get a run at Harry Maguire, then England have got a massive problem – he’s not quick enough to handle the Belgian.
Furthermore, mentally, Southgate will not want to get to the next stage on the back of a loss – you want to be there undefeated.