What this England team really needs is a holiday – Low Calorie Diets Tips

When the Nations League was launched four years ago it seemed like a good idea. Replace the friendly carousel with structured, competitive soccer against teams of a similar level to yours. Who could disagree?

But last night in Molineux, as England played their third of their four Group A3 games this month in front of just a few thousand excited schoolchildren to dutifully secure a 0-0 draw with Italy that no one will remember was here and Less so, watching at home on TV, it was difficult not to feel that the air (of interest, of drama, of emotional investment) had gone out of that particular balloon.

This was a goalless game and not many notable events. Mason Mount hit the bar in the first half, Raheem Sterling shot over the goal from a good position in the second half. Italy had less possession but were perhaps a little better at it, creating good chances for Davide Frattesi, Sandro Tonali and Gianluca Scamacca. Aaron Ramsdale made some good saves.

But this game never had anywhere near the excitement, intensity, drama, none of the basic energies that make up the atmosphere of football.

Much of this was due to the lack of a full crowd. The young fans did their best, but ultimately it felt less like the kids’ cauldron in Budapest last Saturday – there wasn’t a single vuvuzela at Molineux – and more like a throwback to the bad old days of 2020 and 2021.

Gareth Southgate afterwards said the empty stands made it harder to keep up the momentum and it had been “incredibly difficult” for the players to make the transition to a “home” game from two tough away games in Hungary and Germany last week , in which England had no obvious advantage.

That’s certainly true, but at the same time it was the punishment England deserved for the behavior of the crowd at the Euro final last July. And if that hot day last summer overwhelmed the senses and nerves and showed the extremes of emotion and behavior that football evoked back then, well, that was the complete opposite.

The best that can be said was that the first half had a certain airy openness. The nicest euphemism is that it felt like “end of semester.”

The longer this game went on, the worse it got. And it had a trait shared by the friendlies that were meant to replace the Nations League, which was that substitutions made it worse, not better, and disrupted the little flow that was there.

In the end it looked like a practice to get enough minutes in enough legs to keep the players ready for the second leg against Hungary here on Tuesday when there are many spectators without risking injury. None of the England players seemed particularly frustrated at having the game drawn 0-0.

There’s always a temptation after a bad result – and especially after a number of them – to blame it on Southgate.

England are now on two points from their first three 2022-23 Nations League games in the last eight days with just one goal and that was a penalty from Harry Kane who leveled the game in Munich on Tuesday night. That’s very meager prey. They are relegated to the bottom of their group at half-time and need a win on Tuesday against the Hungarian side who outplayed them last weekend.

As was the case after Tuesday, if you’re going to blame Southgate for all of this, you’ve got plenty of ammunition.

Not even the most dedicated vest-wearing Garethista would argue that England are playing well at the moment, that they’ve impressed in those three games, or that they’re now striking fear into the hearts of Germany, France, Brazil and Argentina next as the World Cup looms. They clearly aren’t.

But the sad reality of this mini-campaign at the end of a trying season is that Southgate must train and prepare his team for games that, deep down, he must know shouldn’t even be taking place.

All week he’s been talking about how he’s using those games to experiment, try things and watch players, rather than give it all for 12 out of 12 points and a shot at the final with the top four group winners next year . And he’s been careful not to criticize the schedule itself.

Southgate declined to delve into whether it made sense to have four games this break at the end of a long season at his press conference ahead of Germany’s away game on Monday. “I don’t think it’s a debate for me now,” he said, “because I work with the players. The mindset of this group is: we will push and we want to do well.”

But last night in the Molineux press room, Southgate gave his clearest answer yet that these games were essentially a series of uncomfortable hurdles for him and his team to safely overcome, and not what this competition was originally sold for.

Southgate compared it to the Nations League campaign in autumn 2020: six games against Belgium, Denmark and Iceland played in front of zero fans overall because of the pandemic restrictions on crowds who left no mark on football’s collective memory and who were themselves an exercise in load management. Especially as the first two enjoyed success during the pre-season when players had only just returned from their belated summer breaks after the 2019-20 club season was extended into August for some by those three months of lockdown.

It’s telling that this isn’t the first time Southgate has tried to prepare his team for games that have little justification other than keeping the show on the road.

“It’s a bit like in the Nations League two years ago,” he said, “if you manage the minutes like in pre-season.” It’s incredibly complicated when you want to hone and fine-tune the team ahead of the World Cup, but that’s not the situation we’re in.

“Of course there is a desire to win the games, but at the end of the year there is also a bigger goal.”

It could well be that the World Cup, which starts five months from next week, is the only thing keeping so many England players fit and ready for this particular camp.

In previous years there were certainly a number of cancellations for four international matches in June. And these England players wouldn’t be people if they weren’t a little jealous of their clubmates who have been holidaying in Miami, Ibiza, Las Vegas or wherever for the past three weeks. But nobody wants to get into Southgate’s bad books when he’s about to pick his Qatar 2022 squad.

Still, it’s the players – even more so than Southgate – who are paying the price for these extra games.

Keep in mind that most of this squad had just five weeks between the EURO final on July 11 and the start of the Premier League over the weekend of August 14-15. Many started last season drained and have played nonstop since then.

That game was Jack Grealish’s 50th of the season, Sterling’s 55th, Declan Rice’s 58th, and Mount’s 62nd. England’s best players could hardly have played more if they wanted to. But how much control can we expect from the players over the calendar despite being the ones putting their bodies on the line?

This four-game campaign (more than many teams need to play in an international tournament) is the result of the World Cup in Qatar, the hosting of which has been disputed for the reasons detailed in this article, clearing the traditional June and July window and also taking over two of the international breaks in the autumn.

Something had to fill that gap and UEFA had four rounds of Nations League matches to play – the final two sets of group stage matches taking place in September – before Euro 2024 qualifiers begin next March.

So you can blame FIFA for giving Qatar the World Cup. Because if it was happening anywhere else in the world, it would be happening right now and those Nations League games would certainly be suspended until the usual September, October and November international breaks.

And you can blame UEFA for inventing the Nations League, putting their commercial interests ahead of their regulatory duties and ensuring that we are now in an era of permanent semi-competitive football.

But on nights like this, at the end of a busy 10-month season, when the players are doing their best but seem to have half an eye on other things, it’s clear enough who benefits from those games and who doesn’t.

(Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

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