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Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Germany defeat was a win double for Southgate

Views and tips from the former Germany international

England manager Gareth Southgate
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England losing in Germany on Wednesday night and playing well should actually count as a win double for Gareth Southgate.

The new England boss ought to be delighted with the way his young and largely inexperienced side performed in Dortmund. There was some real hope for the future there. But he should be equally relieved that they lost 1-0.

Twelve months ago, Roy Hodgson’s men went to Berlin and stormed back from 2-0 down to beat a far stronger Germany 3-2. Suddenly everyone jumped aboard the bandwagon proclaiming England as nailed-on European Championship winners – and we know how disastrously that mapped out.

No one does overreactions quite like England fans and it always seems to end in tears. So as Southgate gets his team ready for a clash with Lithuania which England are bound to win, there are genuine grounds for optimism.

Let’s be honest, England were never going to progress under Hodgson, or Sam Allardyce, but Southgate has already made an impact both in players selected (and left out), tactics and the way he wants his team to play. There’s a more ‘current’ feel about the set-up.

Some of the youngsters who Southgate will want to build a team around – the likes of Dele Alli and Eric Dier – are players who are comfortable playing top-level football on an international stage because they are already doing it with their clubs.

It’s the same for John Stones, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. They’re all young but playing at the very top level so won’t be fazed by taking on the world champs in Dortmund.

This group can only get better and should be in a good place by the time of the World Cup – though that doesn’t mean they aren’t priced correctly for it at 25-1. They certainly shouldn’t be any shorter.

Another reason, of course, why England fans shouldn’t be going overboard about Wednesday night’s display is that Germany are also in transition.

It was good to see Joachim Low starting with Julian Weigl, Timo Werner, Leroy Sane and Julian Brandt, all of whom have futures in the national side.

Sadly for Weigl and Werner, they both picked up knocks which rule them out of tomorrow’s qualifier against Azerbaijan in Baku, though Low is able to call upon Mesut Ozil, Mario Gomez and maybe one or two others.

What’s certain is that times are changing in Germany. Half a dozen of the side which won the World Cup less than three years ago, have retired, Lukas Podolski the latest to call it a day.

We are unbeaten since the Euro finals and in the current World Cup campaign have played four, won four, scored 16 and conceded nil. It’s hard to pick faults in that.

But with injuries and a new look to Low’s side, I can see them having difficulty seeing off Azerbaijan, whose club scene is improving all the time and so, by the looks of it, is the national team.

They’ve played only one home game so far and beat Norway 1-0 while also drawing in the Czech Republic. On the up under Robert Prosinecki they look well worth a bet on the handicap.


Arsenal need a new manager

There's always a ‘but’ when you’re talking about Arsene Wenger.

The Frenchman has been an absolute wonder at Arsenal, guiding them to a level of consistency over a long period that makes them the envy of so many teams.

And here comes the ‘but’.

The fact is that they aren’t improving any more under him so surely now is the time for change.

I’m not bothered about supporter protests – fans want loyalty one minute, then when they get it they put the blinkers on and demand change.

The Arsenal board need to be asking themselves if they can see anything in their manager that would suggest he can squeeze any more improvement out of a genuinely talented squad, and I would imagine the answer to that one is ‘no’.

A 10-2 aggregate defeat by Bayern Munich should be the unacceptable scoreline that has strict consequences.

And in that case, they need to be looking to attract someone like Rafa Benitez or Diego Simeone, the kind of manager who can work with what’s at The Emirates and improve them.

As I say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that squad in general. They need a new keeper and a new centre-back, but probably what they really need is a new manager.


Friendlies have had their day

Scotland need to beat Slovenia to cling to any hope of qualifying for next year’s World Cup and I’m not sure a work-out against a Canada third team did them any favours.

Not only did they not win, but it was also an extra game when one wasn’t needed.

I don’t think there will be friendly football in ten years’ time such is the power of the clubs and the demands on the players.

Qualifying campaigns for major finals are now longer with more teams involved and European club knockout competitions stretch the schedule.

Even pre-season in the summer is now filled with money-spinning tours and mini tournaments where clubs are duty-bound to take their best players because they are brand selling.

If ever you needed proof that friendlies are a waste of time, effort and money it’s when under 10,000 turn out to see the national team play against a team who have no stars and are nowhere near full-strength.

On a positive note for Scotland, however, I watched the Old Firm match recently and a competitive edge to the SPL has returned with Rangers going back there. That can only help Gordon Strachan.

The Scots aren’t a bad team and Slovenia aren’t a particularly good one. This looks very winnable for the home team.

Bet of the weekend
Scotland v Slovenia
Last chance saloon for Gordon Strachan and I reckon he can pull it out of the bag

Lay of the weekend
Fleetwood at Bury
A couple of hiccups recently have seen Uwe Rosler’s team slip up and Bury away will be tough

Let’s be honest, England were never going to progress under Hodgson, or Sam Allardyce, but Southgate has already made an impact
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