Neil Humphreys: England must evolve, or risk more World Cup heartbreak
Southgate must be bold and ditch stifling 4-2-3-1 formation at World Cup
As expected, England have qualified for the World Cup Finals in Russia next year.
But the Three Lions were awful in their 1-0 Group F victory over Slovenia yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Here's how England can improve and avoid another humiliating major tournament early exit in Russia.
REMOVE THE SHACKLES, SOUTHGATE
A team with Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling should not be this tedious to watch, not against honest plodders like Slovenia.
But England boss Gareth Southgate has an aversion to risk. He insists on a 4-2-3-1 formation that increasingly looks outdated in the age of surging wing-backs and ball-playing centre backs.
Slovenia obviously played for a point, but Southgate appeared to do the same.
A back four plus another centre back masquerading as a midfielder (Eric Dier) alongside a tireless runner (Jordan Henderson) was not the kind of line-up that would've had Pep Guardiola reaching for his notepad.
England kept the ball but lost any sense of pace, verve, invention and, most critically of all, risk. If they're playing this cautiously against Slovenia, how will they fare at the World Cup?
Are we are going to become Spain in the next eight months? No we’re not.England manager gareth Southgate on his team
Group-stage humiliation beckons yet again unless Southgate removes his exasperating tactical straitjacket.
ALLI IS ENGLAND'S ONLY NO. 10
Dele Alli was the Three Lions' most effective and successful performer against Slovenia because he didn't play.
Being suspended only underlined his irreplaceable value.
Not for the first time, an England manager noticed the current form and positions of key players and then ignored the evidence altogether.
At Manchester City, Sterling hugs the touchline and squeezes the life out of opponents.
Guardiola has wisely ignored Sterling's occasional mutterings about being a playmaker and creative fulcrum and stuck the 22-year-old where he belongs - out wide.
He's a winger with an unfortunate impediment - he's not a particularly adept passer of the ball. As a winger, this drawback presents a challenge. As a No. 10, it's fatal.
Alli represents England's only viable option in the No. 10 role. Adam Lallana could also inject some much needed ingenuity, but Sterling belongs on the wing. He was born to run. He wasn't born to run games.
GO FOR BROKE AGAINST BIG GUNS
England have organised a couple of friendlies against Brazil and Germany next month, who are always the best and worst opponents to face ahead of a major tournament.
Lose and the doom merchants take centre stage for the following six months. Win or achieve a creditable draw and England's jingoism takes over and they're almost certainly going to win the World Cup.
Considering Southgate will essentially suffer either way, he might as well throw off the shackles.
Nothing about England during the qualifying campaign has been particularly engaging, groundbreaking or subtle.
In the upcoming friendlies, Southgate should take a chance and catch up with international football's more courageous coaches.
Go with three centre backs and push up the wing-backs - simply put, allow Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to essentially reprise their familiar club roles.
By all means, keep Henderson and Dier as protection in a trickier formation and then unleash Alli's artistry, Rashford's speed, and Kane's marksmanship on unsuspecting opponents.
England really have little to lose at this point. Unless Southgate comes up with a new direction, England's terrible travellers are on another road to nowhere in Russia.