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Should England ditch the back three system?

Daniel Anwar | 7 September 2018

They struggled to create chances in Russia

England kick-off their Nations League campaign against Spain this weekend full of belief after reaching the World Cup semi-finals in the summer.

It was their best performance in a tournament since 1990. It helped to unite the nation behind the team for the first time in a long while. But there’s still room for improvement going forward.

Gareth Southgate wanted his young team to play a possession-based game. But they didn’t create many chances from open play in Russia. Nine of their 12 goals came from set-pieces.

England are slight 9/5 underdogs to beat Spain in their opening Nations League game on Saturday. But having played with a back three in Russia, would reverting to a back four allow them to be more dangerous in attack?

More midfield options

One of the main reasons Southgate opted for a back three was a lack of quality central midfielders.

Playing with three central defenders allowed the team to retain possession and start attacks from the back.

However, Jordan Henderson was often left isolated in midfield as Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard pushed so far forwards. The team found it hard to get the ball up the pitch as a result, especially in the semi-final loss to Croatia.

If England are going to be more creative, they’ll need a proper midfield platform. Swapping one of the three centre-backs for a midfielder would give the defenders that remain more passing options to choose from.

Playmaker problem

One potential issue for England is the lack of a top-class playmaker. But they can compensate for that with the options they do have.

A midfield duo of Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph would provide a solid base for the players ahead. Eric Dier and the fit-again Harry Winks offer defensive solidity and incisive passing if needed too.

It’s in the final third where England can really benefit from the change of approach.

Plenty of pace

Nothing unsettles opposition defences more than raw speed. And the Three Lions are blessed with an abundance of pace.

Southgate can call upon the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck in attacking areas. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are both rapid in the full-back positions too.

Lingard, Dele Alli and Sterling could play as a fluid trio behind Harry Kane. If they can get the ball in behind the opposition midfield, they’ll cause serious problems for any side.

The Nations League offers Southgate a real chance to experiment. If England do well, they could secure qualification for Euro 2020 early. And if it doesn’t succeed, they’ll still have the usual qualifying process next year.

It could be worth taking a risk to try and take the team to the next level.

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