Southgate’s England in a microcosm: torn between optimism and caution

Win against Serbia showcased familiar strengths and failings as the victors started fast then began to drop back

A sudden gust of wind whips around the Arena AufSchalke, a light drizzle has begun to fall and with 32 minutes on the clock, the match between England and Serbia is about to change course. It doesn’t feel that way in the moment. To be honest, you need to rewind the tape quite a few times to work it out. But in tight tournament games, the shifts of momentum and supremacy can be subtle, fleeting and almost invisible. And this particular shift begins with England’s man of the match, Jude Bellingham.

First, a little recap. Bellingham has deservedly put England ahead with a 13th-minute header, and with a third of the game played everything is going his way. Serbia, who can’t really defend that well, are defending deep, and thus forcing themselves to defend more. Harry Kane isn’t getting the ball at all, but as he will later explain this is essentially by design, stretching the pitch as much as he can so Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and especially Bellingham can work their magic. The England press is hungry and organised, and even when they squander possession they invariably get it straight back.

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