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Chris Waddle Exclusive - Euro 2024

Chris Waddle Exclusive - Euro 2024

On England vs Switzerland

England are into the semi-final. Tell me how you’re feeling Chris.

I knew it was going to be a tight game. Switzerland is a well organised team with clever, experienced players. From what we’ve seen of England so far, I also knew that it wasn’t going to be a classic with both teams trading blows.

I think we got exactly what we expected; a cagey game from two teams that showed a lot of respect to each other. The stats bore that out: three decent chances each. I think both England and Switzerland will have thought they did enough to win it. When it goes to the dreaded penalties, which is something I've obviously suffered myself wearing an England shirt, it turns into a battle of technical superiority and confidence, and I did feel like we would have the edge on that front and so it proved.

I felt for Akanji. I was surprised he took the first penalty for Switzerland.

Our penalties were absolutely superb. No hassle, nice and composed.

What were the positives from England’s performance apart from the obvious?

I thought the system was good. Playing with three at the back and wing backs is a system that suits the players that we have. I think the squad that Gareth has assembled is a perfect match for this formation, particularly with the risk averse style that we play.

The defence looked comfortable throughout the match. They largely dealt with what Switzerland was throwing at them.

I like Saka in the wing back role. His performance there was his best in the tournament, and he looked more comfortable playing in that role than he does as an out-and-out winger for England.

What were you concerned by from England’s performance against Switzerland ahead of the semi-final?

I’m not convinced by Kieran Trippier and haven’t been at the tournament. We saw Shaw come into the match in the second half, and I suspect that he will start against Holland if he is ready to do so.

Trippier’s lack of pace is a big concern for me. I think that lack of pace can be exploited by some of Holland’s players and, if I was Ronald Koeman, that is an area that I would target.

Konza, he’s very inexperienced at this level. I thought he performed well, and it would be a coin toss between him keeping his place in the team or Southgate going back with Marc Guehi (for the semi-final). Guehi could slot into a back five or back in alongside John Stones in a back four if Gareth reverts to type.

We still haven’t seen the best of Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden. I’m not convinced by either of them. People want them to replicate their performances for Real Madrid and Manchester City when the pull on an England shirt, but that’s unrealistic because they’re not playing with the likes of Luka Modric, Vini Junior, Kevin De Bruyne or Rodri, but at the same time, I think we can expect more than what we have seen.

If I was Cole Palmer or Eberechi Eze, I would be having a word with the manager asking him to give me some minutes when the scores are level rather than coming into a game when England are staring down the barrel of a defeat, because the likes of Bellingham and Foden simply aren’t doing it.

Our performances have improved when Palmer and Eze have been introduced. I think that we look like a much better team in terms of the football we’re playing with them in the side.

On Eze and Palmer’s limited action

I feel sorry for the pair of them. We haven’t seen anything from Gareth Southgate to suggest that he will bring them into the team, so they will have to accept a limited role within the squad for the next match and potentially the final.

Both Eze and Palmer have bright futures. I think this is the summer that Eze will move on to a bigger club than Crystal Palace, no disrespect to them.

Cole Palmer, he is a player that England should build their next team around. He’s that good. He is going to have a long international career with the Three Lions.

I think that Bellingham and Foden are getting into the team in front of Palmer and Eze because they work a little bit harder off the ball and Gareth likes his midfielders to graft. He has definitely sacrificed creativity for discipline in my opinion.

The thing is, I think you can find a better balance in midfield that blends a bit of steel and hard work with creativity and technical ability. We haven’t managed to do that. Spain has the perfect midfield blend.

If England are going to play with a back three and wingbacks, then that is a system where you can have more attacking midfielders in your team, and you should to provide the balance. It would be a perfect set-up for the likes of Palmer and Eze.

It would be a bold call to take Bellingham and Foden out of the starting line-up, even though it shouldn’t be when you consider their performances so far. I can’t see Gareth Southgate doing that, especially when his picks have got him to a semi-final.

Penalty drama

Whenever it’s England and penalties, I can’t help but hide behind the sofa (laughs). Obviously, I had my own experience with missing a penalty for England in a massive game, so I know what the players are going through when they make the walk from the half-way line and take a kick. That can be a lonely walk and the aftermath if you lose really isn’t pleasant.

I think we have a strange obsession with penalties in this country, but in fairness to this group of players, and this manager, it looks like we’re starting to get over that. I felt confident that we would win that shoot-out simply because our players are technically superior to Switzerland’s.

The more kicks we can win, the more it becomes less of a problem. Hopefully we can put those dark days behind us and into the history books. When the players stepped up on Saturday, they didn’t seem phased at all. Every one of them looked confident and I would back them to beat Holland in another shoot-out if it came down to it.

This group of players seem better prepared than we did at the 1990 World Cup. We never practiced kicks in those days. Some of the players may say that we did, but I can’t remember the likes of Gazza or Gary Lineker practicing in training.

The kicks were all perfect. Did Southgate learn lessons from the Italy shoot-out by introducing his kick takers earlier into extra time so they could get a feel for the game?

I think Gareth Southgate looked like he learned from what happened against Italy (where England lost the penalty shoot-out) by introducing his penalty takers earlier. It was the right thing to do – you want your takers to have a feel for the game rather than taking a kick cold.

Players like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Cole Palmer, Ivan Toney, they seem to enjoy taking a penalty. I looked at all our takers, and I just thought to myself that would all score – they made it look easy.

Going back thirty-odd years ago, the England players didn’t enjoy that pressure. None of us enjoyed taking penalties. Maybe it was because we didn’t practice them, maybe it was because we didn’t have players that always took them for their clubs, and maybe there were less of them awarded in those days.

Kane got hooked off and, normally, with penalties the likeliest option, that would be a concern for fans, but on comes Ivan Toney. Within this group of players, there are several players that, when they step up, you know they will score. It wasn’t like that in my day.

Kane’s laboured performances

It was another England performances that passed our captain by. England play a very conservative style of football, without many runs in behind and everyone wanting the ball to feet, but on the few occasions where Saka did go past his fullback and put crosses into areas where you want your striker to be, Harry Kane was nowhere to be seen.

I’m a massive Kane fan. His numbers are incredible, and he has scored goals consistently for years. Throughout his career he has dropped into the deeper areas of the pitch to get on the ball and dictate – we know he’s got a wonderful ability to spot a pass – but this England team doesn’t send runners in behind for Kane to pick out.

When he’s dropping deep, he isn’t bringing the opposition centre half with him because teams are defending very deep at this tournament. He isn’t really adding anything to what England are trying to do going forward by coming deep, and by doing so, we’re losing any kind of presence up front. It’s all very easy to defend against.

Harry needs to stay higher up the pitch. It’s not working at the moment and it hasn’t been working for the entire tournament.

Kane needs to stay a lot higher up the pitch and be in and around the penalty area – he doesn’t need to get on the ball to make things happen because England have players that are capable of doing that. He needs to be getting on the end of things. Get in the box and make yourself a nuisance.

Kane had a spectacular season at Bayern Munich in terms of the goals. He picked up a bit of a knock towards the end of the season – are these performances a consequence of him coming into this tournament not 100% fit?

If you look at Harry's career, I think Harry's at his best when he just keeps playing games. He's one of these players that needs games to stay in form, so when he picked up that little injury after a fantastic debut season at Bayern, I was one of the few voices that was concerned by the fact that he was going to have a breather.

For some players, when they have two, three, or four weeks off, it can take them a month or two to catch up. Some players can be out for three months and look like they’ve never been away when they come back from injury.  

Harry is a player that definitely falls into the former. The period without football looks like it has affected him at this tournament.

On Saka’s performance

Saka was awarded the Man of the Match award and rightly so. I think he looks more comfortable playing as wingback than he does playing as a winger when he pulls on the England kit.

He’s a selfless player, he works hard and he’s good enough to cover that side on his own both offensively and defensively.

He scored a lovely goal; it was one we’ve seen him score several times for Arsenal. I was surprised that Switzerland let him do it to be honest, they really should have known that was what he was going to do. Maybe they did and they couldn’t stop him. It was a wonderful finish.

I think the wing back role gives him a little bit more freedom to express himself, and that is because there is less expectation on him in that position than there is when he plays as a winger.

He carries the ball really well, but he’s not an out-and-out winger in terms of getting chalk on his boots and beating his fullback on the outside and whipping in crosses, he comes off the line and links things up, plays combinations and shoots.

He loves that left foot. I’ve always thought if he developed his right and had more confidence to go on the outside, he would be an unbelievable player and would be even more dangerous because sometimes he can be a bit predictable, especially when he plays for England and he doesn’t have a player like Martin Odegaard to combine with and play one twos to work his way into the box.

Gareth Southgate channeled Terry Venables with Switzerland tactics

Against Switzerland, Gareth played three at the back and I think he was channeling his inner Terry Venables with that decision. I played under Terry at Tottenham; he was a great manager and a great person.

If Terry was worried about the opposition, he always used to match their formation and break down the game into individual battles. I think Gareth applied that lesson on Saturday night because he was fearful about being exposed by Switzerland if he played in a four five one formation.

Southgate was in the England team that was managed by Terry when we beat Holland at Euro 96. We absolutely battered them, and a big part of that was winning the individual duels by matching them up.

I think Gareth remembered that and that is something he reaches for when England come up against tough opposition.

The question is, will he do it again against Holland? I think they will be more worried about what we can do to be honest.


On England vs Holland

Unbelievable that we’re here

It's unbelievable that England are one game away from appearing in consecutive European finals when you look at our performances. We haven’t really produced anything that would make any of our potential opponents sit up and take notice, but we’re here.

If I was rating England out of ten, then it would have to be a five, but the good news is that we’re there.

I think most people would have expected a semi-final as a minimum achievement with the talent that we have. We’ve done it, let’s see if we can keep going.


On Holland

I've watched Holland and, no disrespect to them, getting to the semi-final with this group of players is a big overachievement. I wouldn’t describe them as an outstanding side like some of the vintage Holland teams from the past.

Defensively, they’ll give you chances. They look vulnerable from crosses. That could be something for England to try and exploit, but they’ll need Kane to stop dropping off and to ask questions of Virgil van Dijk and Stefan de Vrij.

They can also ask questions with their own attacking set pieces. They have some dangerous players in Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons. Memphis Depay is a bit of an enigma, you never know what he is going to do, but I wouldn’t say that they are a better overall team than Switzerland. Holland are one of the teams that are lucky to be here. They were outplayed by Austria and deservedly lost that game. You can definitely get at this team. England will have chances, it’s all about taking them. 

Changes would send Dutch team a message, but I don’t expect any

I think England will be favourites for the game, and I think we will beat them. We all know the performances have been poor, but we’re a better team than Holland.

I think we could send a message to the Dutch if we were brave enough to drop Bellingham and Foden and bring in Palmer and Eze – that would give the team an element of unpredictability having those two in the side, but I appreciate that it isn’t going to happen.

There are a lot of players that are familiar with each other in both sides. I think it will be a cagey game, there will be a lot of nerves, but I think we will edge it with or without Palmer and Eze starting the game.

Not vintage Holland

I’ve always been a big fan of Holland, the football they play and the players that they produce. I loved watching the likes of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and latterly players like Denis Bergkamp, Robin van Perise and Wesley Sneijder, but you've got to say that over the last six years, they've not been producing the talent they used to.

This isn’t a team that plays total football. They have had a lot of joy at set-pieces, and they have had a bit of luck with some of the goals they’ve scored, a few big deflections. There isn’t a single player in that team who has that X factor. It’s a hard-working, functional team, that has a bit of quality.

The Dutch fans will create a magnificent atmosphere. The fans have high expectations because of the teams and players they have produced over the years – they will be right behind their team on Wednesday night.

If you'd offered England a semi-final against Holland before the tournament started, I think we would have bitten your hand off.  

What’s the approach for the semi-final? Do we need an improved performances or is the focus on getting through to the final by hook or by crook?

At this stage, after everything that we’ve seen from England, it’s simply about getting to the final. I think everyone has come to terms with the fact that England play in a certain way, it will be difficult at times, but we will stay in the game and hope that we can show one or two moments of quality. That has been enough so far.

I’m expecting this to be another extremely cagey game. At this stage, the onus is on the players as much as the manager in terms of someone stepping up and demonstrating their ability with a moment of magic.

They’ll be a lot of respect shown between the managers. If you asked 100 managers which team they would rather take into this game, then 99 of them would say England because we have better players.

Holland have looked very awkward at times. We’ll get chances, we just have to take them and hope that Holland don’t take theirs, because they will have a few as well.

What words of inspiration would you give to the team? What’s the rallying cry to Southgate and his boys?

Go out and play with freedom. Go and show these Dutch players what you’re all about and try and be positive in the match by doing the things that you’re good at.

Phil Foden said the other day that he didn’t come to the Euros to not show the form that saw him crowned the Premier League’s best player last season, and that is the approach that every single one of these players needs to take.

Go out and show them why you’re regarded as some of the world’s best football players. Let’s see a bit of that confidence, that arrogance we see when you put on your club shirts.

The players shouldn’t need to be reminded of the ability they have. OK, you’ve been below par so far, some may say that you’re lucky to be here, so go onto that stage and prove the doubters wrong.

Don’t freeze. Don’t let the occasion get to you. Be adventurous. Be brave. Take risks. Express yourself. If you do all of those things, with the individual quality that we have, then we’ll win the game. Come on England!

If England get to the final, which nation would you rather face: France or Spain?

France is a little bit more experienced, they've been there, done it. They’ve beaten England recently at a major tournament. France is a more stubborn team to break down than Spain – they keep things tighter and play a more cautious brand of football.

Spain have been the best team at the tournament so far. They play with a lot of freedom, and going forward they are electric.Fabian Ruiz has been absolutely magnificent in that Spanish midfield. He went off against Germany, and if he isn’t available for France, then that would be a massive loss for them.

Rodri doesn’t put a foot wrong. Dani Olmo, who came on for Pedri, he’s a wonderful footballer. Then the two wingers are also brilliant and have given defences a lot of headaches at this tournament so far. France haven’t been that impressive, but they are there. I think they will be better against an opponent like Spain, and they will have the confidence in their ability to get past them.

For me, France would be the more difficult opponent for England to face because they can lock up a game of football under Didier Deschamps. Spain would leave spaces for England to exploit – whereas France vs England would be like a game of chess. It would be a game that would be won by a moment of individual brilliance or a mistake.

They are both very dangerous potential opponents, but I do think England would have more joy playing against Spain because they don’t have the same level of discipline as France. The question is would England be able to repel a Spanish attack that has looked irresistible at times?


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