How I see it... you do one or the other, not fall inbetween two stools. You either press from high up the pitch and play a high line to compress the area you need to press - or, like France, you concede territory and sit ten outfield players behind the ball and make the other team play through you. We got caught doing a bit of one and the other - the worst possible combination of dropping deeper and deeper, but still trying to press the ball. It's no wonder they got tired - they were trying to 'police' an area twice as deep as it should have been.
The reason? A bit of inexperience certainly and also that crucial lack of an 'out'.... either a target man we could get forward and support quickly, or (more crucially) a midfield player you could give the ball to and say "Take this for ten seconds please" and give the defence a chance to push up and compress the space.
We all knew we didn't have that player - so we ended up playing the long ball forward and hoping it stuck - and last night it didn't. So it was coming back at us before we'd had the chance to get the back three/five 15/20 yards up the pitch. Which meant Croatia had lots of room when they got the ball - and you give people like Modric and Rakatic space to play, they'll get to you eventually.
What we should have done was swallow the pill and try to play the way France did in the second half against Belgium - get everyone back behind the ball (including Kane and Sterling/Rashford) and make Croatia play through ten outfield players. That was our best chance - but it didn't feel like we were prepared to accept that challenge. It's just not something English teams are very comfortable doing. But we need to get used to it - or find a midfield player who can do the kind of thing that Modric has done all his career - hold onto the ball and buy the team time.
The manager and players will learn - I have no doubts about that. They can be rightly proud of their showing here - especially in light of where we were when Southgate took over officially (which was only November 2016, let's not forget). We've come a long way - but there's a long way to go still. At least we've got a manager who looks like he has a clue, who the players trust and believe in and who the fans have taken to as well. And there is a good nucleus of young players already in place, with more to come.
I'm very optimistic.
Sheets of empty canvas, untouched sheets of clay.......