Italy ready to pile on more pain for Gareth Southgate and England
Posted by  badge Boss on Mar 23, 2023 - 02:02AM
England manager Gareth Southgate has plenty to ponder ahead of taking on Italy (Picture: PA)

ENGLAND and would probably have wanted to ease their way back into international action with a less testing assignment than a trip to Naples to kick off their qualifiers.

But a little over three months since their quarter-final exit, England begin their latest quest to end the long wait for silverware away to Italy, a challenging prospect against an old nemesis and with plenty of issues for the manager to address.

Southgate goes into what is likely to be his final campaign as boss knowing he must not only get his team to move on from the lingering pain of that defeat to France in , but also find a way to get his players to take that final step and not keep falling just short in the biggest of matches.

Worryingly for the England boss, the first step comes on Thursday night in hostile surroundings against a team who the visitors have struggled against for years.

The good, the bad and more bad

England have a bit of a problem with Italy, don’t they? The memories of the Euro 2020 final defeat to the Azzurri on penalties, and the end of the Three Lions’ best hopes of winning a tournament since 1966, still linger.

As if that wasn’t enough, a tepid performance led to a 1-0 loss in Milan last September to cap a miserable Nations League campaign that ended in relegation and also included a drab goalless draw behind closed doors at Molineux.

So, aside from that, and the fact Naples has a rather chequered history when it comes to hosting teams from this country, it is with much pleasure that Southgate and his men look forward to a demanding way to start their European Championship qualifying campaign.

It is 11 years and seven games since England beat Italy. Even the fact it is being played at the stadium named in honour of Napoli legend Diego Maradona is a bad omen. Anyone fancy giving this one a miss?

Harry Kane is left in despair after his penalty miss against France (Picture: Getty)

On the defensive

The last time England kicked a ball in anger, it was in an enormous Bedouin tent in the middle of the Qatari desert and was somewhere desperately trying to conjure up an equaliser against France in the World Cup after blazing his late penalty over the crossbar.

That Kane hunt failed and the team crashed out at the quarter-final stage, prompting much hand-wringing back home. But Southgate stayed on as manager and gets another go at Euros glory – probably his final opportunity to win a trophy with his country, at the fourth attempt.

To improve his chances, he must find a defence capable of keeping out teams like Les Bleus and strikeforces such as Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann.

The fine margins at a tournament are what kill England’s hopes every time and, while goals will come, it is at the other end where there should be concern.

Harry Maguire remains peripheral at Manchester United and John Stones has completed 90 minutes just three times in 2023 so far. But despite recent struggles for Tottenham and Crystal Palace, Southgate has gone for Eric Dier and Marc Guehi, with AC Milan defender Fikayo Tomori again left out in the cold.

Leicester’s James Maddison (Picture: Malcolm Couzens/Getty)

Madd to overlook James

And what does the gaffer do with his attack? Injury has robbed England of an in-form Marcus Rashford and a less dynamic Raheem Sterling.

Phil Foden and Jack Grealish have both been approaching their best for Manchester City and Bukayo Saka is Bukayo Saka.

Southgate does not usually accommodate a true No.10 but maybe James Maddison needs to be given a serious run of matches after scoring nine Premier League goals and laying on five assists for struggling Leicester.

has been in good form despite facing Football Association betting charges, as well as shaking off the disappointment of a World Cup snub, and earns another shot at a first cap.