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EXCLUSIVE: England struggle to cope with ‘weight of expectation’

Former England defender Danny Mills says the Three Lions are struggling to cope with the “weight of expectation” after another poor performance at Euro 2024.

Gareth Southgate’s side held Denmark 1-1 to keep them top of Group C, but left fans and pundits outraged by their unsavory antics on the pitch.

Regular stars including Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice were out in Frankfurt on Thursday, especially after taking a 1-0 lead.

England sat back once they took the lead and Denmark stepped up, equalized and were the better team for the rest of the game.

Mills says there is a lot of pressure on the team following the final defeat at Euro 2020, but he does not condone the mistakes made by the Danish players.

Speaking exclusively to 101 Great Goals on behalf of BetVictor, he said: “When Gareth came in, it took a lot of pressure off the players to go and prove themselves, but now it looks like the weight of expectation is very, very heavy on some of those players.

“Players who take reasonable decisions, kicking the ball out unnecessarily sometimes the whole field, we entered the middle of the field.

“Jude Bellingham is an absolute star, but it’s like he wants to do everything in the game, he almost tries too hard because of what’s expected of him to go out and play and win games.”

“So I think a little bit has crept in. I think the expectations are high and maybe the players are starting to feel that.

“Every stick held by the manager and the players already know that if they don’t win this competition, the manager will be broken and they will fall into that blanket and be broken again. I think that is very difficult.

“You saw last night that sometimes the players take irrational decisions, they take rash decisions.

“That has nothing to do with skill. That has nothing to do with what the manager said. That has nothing to do with tactics. That’s just a matter of mentality.”

The omission of England

One player who caught fire was Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Liverpool defender was used as a central midfielder by Southgate at Euro 2020 but struggled to play alongside Declan Rice.

Crystal Palace’s Adam Wharton and Manchester United’s Kobbie Mainoo have not sniffed the action for it and many say Jude Bellingham could do a job in a deeper role.

Mills admits Alexander-Arnold may have to be moved until the end of the tournament but sympathizes with the 25-year-old after calls for him to be played in the middle.

He added: “It may need to be reviewed. It didn’t work as well as many people thought.

“Interesting, isn’t it? Many reporters, media people and professionals wanted Trent in the midfield because of his passing ability.

“Not too many are now saying ‘Oh, we made a mistake.’ People say ‘Oh, I’m not sure Gareth would have the guts to do it.’

“He’s done it and now Gareth is going to stick with the tactics. It doesn’t win.

“It’s not just about Trent. Trent needs people behind him to create those spaces. Everything was played in front of the Danish players.

“Playing with your back to the goal is incredibly difficult. I would still struggle to make a game to give back to people who have never played this game. It is a foreign country.

“Scanning is still a new word in football, looking over your shoulder. I didn’t have to do that as a defender.

“If I looked over my right shoulder, I would have someone sitting in the crowd to worry about yelling at me.

“Nobody was going to take the ball away from me. Everything was in front of me. So that’s not easy.”

Euro ambitions

If England are to win their first major tournament since the 1966 World Cup, a lot needs to change following Denmark’s defeat.

Alexander-Arnold’s position has already been highlighted, but there is also a collective problem on the pitch.

Mills admits that things need to improve, but he has identified the false expectations of the players as one of the biggest problems that need to be fixed for England to win the Euros this summer.

He said: “We have very good attacking talent and for some reason we are expected to come out and win every game 5-0.”

“No one does that in this tournament. The quality of the so-called small groups has improved a lot. There are still many good players in those teams.

“There is this false perception that England will just come out in the open to push each team forward.

“People raise their game when they play against England because it’s England. They want to beat England. It always is.

“So that makes it difficult again. But you have to take the positives. “

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