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Gareth Southgate has to go for broke today – and put out the team that will start in the European Championships in seven days’ time.
They were so pedestrian against Austria and it was boring to watch, but I can understand that.
Players don’t want to risk injury on the eve of a tournament – as the terrible blow suffered by Trent Alexander-Arnold proves.
They can’t afford a repeat against Romania, though, for a very good reason.
The hardest game in their group comes in the first match against Croatia – and that could well define their tournament.
So they need to hit the ground running.
Gareth Southgate speaks to the media
It’s almost a cliche, but confidence and momentum are such a huge part of football. I think it’s a little more complex than that, though.
When people talk about confidence, they actually mean something else – playing without inhibition.
You lose or don’t play well and the next game you take a certain anxiety into it, a stress that things are not right. And you can allow that anxiety to affect you.
That applies to football – and it applies to life.
When you play with that anxiety, it affects judgement. I know from experience, you tend to play safer, take fewer risks, become pedestrian. Which is how England played in midweek.
Bukayo Saka is congratulated by England teammates Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Jack Grealish.
(Image: Laurence Griffiths – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
Will England win Euro 2020? Comment below
So they need a win and a performance against Romania because that will give a positive feeling, reduce the anxiety that everyone feels at the top level, allow more freedom and more scope to play a natural game.
I know it’s elite sport, and everyone expects elite sportspeople to always perform without anxiety, but this is the real world.
We are all human and we all suffer. It’s just that the elite maybe deal with it better.
But it’s still there. That’s why you see sides who are on a losing streak go into their shell, stop playing their normal game.
Look at Liverpool this season, there was a spell which almost destroyed them, a team that was unbeatable and almost unplayable last season.
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So, again, Southgate needs to go big today. Play his strongest side, coach them to believe, to be passionate, to play uninhibited football, and make a real statement.
It helps the England team massively, but will also put a seed in the minds of the Croatia players.
If they see a confident, dominant England team playing without stress or restriction, they’ll start thinking about what they’re facing.
And the stakes are huge.
There’s a strong likelihood whoever wins the group will end up playing Germany in the later stages, which is tough. But the team finishing second will almost certainly meet France.
To be honest, I don’t know which is worse, because as good as France are – and I’d definitely want to avoid them – Germany, for all their recent relative troubles, are a tournament team.
I actually think you have to forget about who you are facing and concentrate on yourself, get it right, believe in yourself, reduce the anxiety and accept you have to beat the best.
But making a statement, going out and winning the first game will still be massive… and could make it easier in the long run.
Which is why I believe this seemingly unimportant, meaningless friendly against Romania is huge.
And, honestly, I think Gareth will be making a massive mistake if he doesn’t go all out with his best team and try to blow them away