Gareth Southgate has Nations League games to assess his squad (Picture: Getty Images)
England must play on the ‘front foot’ and with more ‘flamboyance’ at times if they want to win the World Cup later this year, according to Paul Merson.
Gareth Southgate has led the Three Lions to the brink of glory – reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and European Championship final in 2020.
But his side have faltered in the crunch moments, with the Qatar World Cup providing the opportunity to go that one step further.
The Three Lions lost out to Italy in the Euro 2020 final (Picture: Getty Images)
Before then, England have Nations League matches against Hungary, Germany and Italy to contest.
Those games will provide Southgate the opportunity to assess his squad and who will make the trip to Qatar in November.
If his side harbour ambitions of winning the tournament, former Arsenal and England winger believes Southgate must ditch his defensive-minded approach.
‘There are plenty who will feel they have points to prove for England over these Nations League games starting on Saturday night – and Gareth Southgate should be top of the list,’ Merson told the Daily Star.
‘It is not the World Cup for all that we are in a decent group and there are no Mickey Mouse games. You cannot replicate the pressure that is going to be on Gareth and his side when we get to Qatar. But what these four games against Hungary, Germany, Italy and Hungary again offer is a golden chance to show that we have moved on from the European Championships.
England have a plethora of attacking options (Picture: Getty Images)
‘And for me it is the boss who has to show he has learned lessons. Gareth had a great opportunity in the Euros. If they were a boxer they had Italy on the ropes 1-0 up in the final and they were all over them. Instead of going for the killer blow they put their arms up and tried to defend it.
‘That was Gareth’s big mistake and he has to show he has changed. Gareth played centre-half and he was a top centre-half; I know because I played with him at Villa and England. He was a very, very good centre-half.
‘That has been his football all his career though – being a defensive player – and naturally you are going to have that sort of instinct as a manager as well. It is understandable. What I want to see is him throwing off the shackles because if we are going to win the World Cup we are not going to defend our way to it in Qatar, certainly not with the defence we’ve got.
‘If we are going to win it we have to get on the front foot and play with a little bit more flamboyance at times. We have the talent to do that but key to it is that Gareth has to trust his flair players a bit more. That’s not to say you go all gung-ho and say: ‘Right you have a shot’ we’ll have a shot and we’ll back ourselves to win’. But there are certain times in games where you simply have to go for it.
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‘In the final against Italy, we started off so well, went 1-0 up and then went back into our shells. I wanted to see them go for it, just for 20 or 30 minutes. Score a goal then and we win the European Championships. The worst thing that would have happened was that it would have gone 1-1, which it did in the end anyway.
‘Gareth has to get us a little more open at certain times in games because in the World Cup we are going to be coming up against the crème de la crème players. Even if we score, believe me you can’t defend for 70 minutes or 80 minutes if you have gone 1-0 up against them. They will break you down. Hungary, Germany and Italy are all proper sides and it is an opportunity for Gareth to show us he’s learned. We have got to get players worrying about us; not us worrying about them.’
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