Gary Neville has given his thoughts on England’s opening match against Croatia on his YouTube channel The Overlap.
The Three Lions came away from the game as 1-0 winners, thanks to a second-half goal by Raheem Sterling.
It was a relatively comfortable afternoon, with the visitors showing little threat – although England fans will hope to be a little bit more threatening going forward.
The result puts Gareth Southgate’s men in a good position. Up next is a meeting with rivals Scotland, before finishing the group stage against Czech Republic.
One point will almost certainly guarantee progression to the knockout stage, and they will be expected to collect six points and top the group.
Neville on Jack Grealish
“Before the game, all of us were debating whether Jack [Grealish] would start,” said Neville.
“We all thought he would come off the bench. But he (Southgate) didn’t sway to public opinion, which many have in the past.
“I love him to bits, and I think he’s a brilliant player, and I think he’ll play a big part in this tournament.
“But if you’re playing Harry Kane up front, and Phil Foden on the right, you have to play pace in that area on the left. [Marcus] Rashford or [Raheem] Sterling, I think will always start there.”
There was a lot of clamour for Grealish to be in England’s starting XI before the game. And, when the team sheet was released, many were frustrated that he had been left out in favour of Sterling.
The Manchester City man has had a tough time of late, scoring just once in his last 16 appearances. Nonetheless, he was the man who got the winning goal.
Sterling was a threat for most of the game, especially with his runs in behind. And, while his end product wasn’t always very effective, his pace was a useful asset to the side.
Grealish is no slouch, but he’s far more likely to want the ball to feet. For the balance of the team, perhaps it’s better to have Sterling in there instead.
Neville on Gareth Southgate
“People weren’t inspired by Gareth’s selection when he first got the job off the back of Sam Allardyce leaving,” added Neville.
“But I look at it now – there are many times with Gareth Southgate where I think ‘I wouldn’t have done that’, but then he ends up being proven correct – his use of players, his use of substitutes, the set-piece details.
“I think we’ve got a fantastic international manager. He lives and breathes it – he understands tournament football, he understands the FA. Hats off to him – you’ve done a great job Gareth.”
There was more anger at Southgate’s team selection than just Grealish’s omission. Many wondered why Kieran Trippier was playing at left-back and why Tyrone Mings and Kalvin Phillips had been selected. As it happens, the latter two ended up being two of England’s best players.
Will the game against Croatia have eased the pressure on Southgate? Perhaps a little bit. As mentioned earlier, many of his selections were heavily scrutinised but ultimately paid off.
Remember when he used to get slaughtered for choosing Mason Mount? Now he’s one of the first names on the team sheet.
However, one of the biggest criticisms aimed at the manager is how ineffective England can be in attack, despite all that quality in forward areas.
Once again, this was on display, with the Three Lions being limited to very few clear cut chances.
Good performances in the upcoming group stage games could go a long way to getting the fans back on his side.
Neville on the Scotland game
“You talk about a spirited Scotland,” he said. “With McGinn, McTominay, Tierney, Robertson, the two up front – Dykes and Adams have got a real awkwardness to them which will cause you a problem.
“I see it as a really awkward game for England on Friday night. I think England will just win it because they’ve got more quality, but I think it’ll be very difficult.”
Scotland’s start to Euro 2020 wasn’t ideal. They had chances but failed to convert them and were undone by two moments of quality by Patrik Schick.
This leaves them in a difficult position, most likely needing a win in either of the final two group games to stand a chance of progressing.
Next up is a trip to Wembley to face arch-rivals England. It’s one that they won’t be expected to get much from, but Southgate’s squad cannot afford to underestimate their opponents.
Scotland will be more motivated than ever to pull off an upset. And, with a few Premier League players in their side, they have enough quality to make an impact.