England assistant Steve Holland knows there is room for improvement after a “mixed” group stage but believes they are heading into the crunch Euros clash with Germany in their best shape to date.
Gareth Southgate’s side opened Group D with a 1-0 win against Croatia, before a drab 0-0 draw with rivals Scotland and securing top spot in the pool by beating the Czech Republic 1-0 on Tuesday.
The Three Lions’ reward is a mammoth last-16 clash with Germany back at Wembley next Tuesday, when assistant manager Holland knows they will need to up their game.
“Mixed,” he said of England’s Group D displays. “I think very happy to win the group. That was the objective.
“I think we were happy with the Croatia game in terms of three of the best midfield players in Europe – (Marcelo) Brozovic, (Luka) Modric, (Mateo) Kovacic – three super players that if you don’t get your organisation correct you can have all sorts of problems getting a foothold in the game so we were happy with that.
“We then in the Scotland game weren’t so happy. Our level of performance wasn’t what we’d hoped for, for a variety of reasons.
“We looked long and hard at that, we introduced one or two different things tactically with the ball that we were happy with on Tuesday.
“The Czech Republic game we felt was a step in the right direction, particularly the first half.
“So, despite really having the confusion of we’re walking onto the training pitch the day before the Czech Republic and there’s noise about the Covid fallout and the impact that might have had on two players who were training to prepare for the game.
“After the training session the doc’s walking across the pitch – that’s always a sign of concern when the doc’s walking across the pitch.
“It became clear that these lads weren’t going to be able to play and then a bit of a rethink and reshuffle. I’ve got to say the players adapted to all of that really well.
“The level of performance in the Czech Republic game was good so I think mixed (overall). We haven’t conceded a goal yet, which I think is important and good.
“We haven’t created as many chances as we would have liked. That’s something we’re working on continuously.
“I think we can be fairly content with where we are so far but with room for improvement.”
Assistant Holland said England’s analysis of previous major tournament winners aid their shot at Euros glory, which has been boosted by their enviable strength in depth.
That has helped the Three Lions cope with Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell going into isolation, with the former Chelsea coach believing they are now in a good place to kick on.
“Compared to Russia where we had a good four and a half weeks prep with the squad, really we’ve only been five, six days with the whole squad together leading into the Croatia game,” Holland told the Official England Podcast before Germany were confirmed as opponents.
“A completely different set of circumstances, more challenging, but we are in a year of strange challenges and the need to adapt is something that we’ve all had to do, whether we’re in football or in normal life.
“Was it perfect? No. But it’s the set of cards we have and we’ve just had to find a way around things.
“I would probably argue that we’re in better shape at this moment in time, this afternoon as I speak, than probably we’ve been at any other point since the first day leading into the two games at the Riverside.”