Should Gareth Southgate ditch the back three for England?
Jack Grealish’s form could merit a rethink
England may be 5/1 joint-favourites to win Euro 2020 next summer, but they’ve struggled to impress during the Nations League this term.
Having won just two of their five group games, Gareth Southgate’s side can’t qualify for the finals regardless of the result against Iceland tomorrow.
Results have been disappointing, while performances haven’t been much better, but the emergence of Jack Grealish on the international stage has been a huge positive from recent international breaks. The Aston Villa captain was arguably the best player on the pitch against Belgium, despite England’s 2-0 defeat on Sunday.
However, if Grealish were to continue in the 3-4-3 system England have employed recently, with Harry Kane up front, there would likely only be room for one of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.
The Three Lions don’t have the same array of talent in other areas, so should Southgate adapt his plans to get more of his most dangerous players on the pitch?
Why did England switch to 3-4-3?
The move to three at the back appears to be designed to give the team safety in numbers. Southgate is spoilt for choice at right-back, while Ben Chilwell looks the part on the left, but the options at centre-back aren’t entirely convincing.
Harry Maguire has had a tough few months, Joe Gomez has a long-term injury, Eric Dier is solid if unspectacular and Michael Keane, Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady aren’t tested at the highest level. John Stones was a key part of the side that got to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, but he can barely get a game for Manchester City now.
With Jordan Pickford also struggling in goal at Everton, reinforcing the backline with an extra defender makes sense, but it does come at a creative cost. Is it worth it?
What’s the problem?
England were the highest scorers in Euro 2020 qualifying with 37 goals and they also reached last year’s inaugural Nations League final, all while playing almost entirely in a 4-3-3.
They also beat Spain 3-2 just over two years ago, in arguably the best display of Southgate’s reign, again while playing with a back four and front three. That game saw Harry Kane drop deep and feed Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, who tormented the hosts with their speed and skill.
It’s a far cry from their Nations League campaign this year, which has seen England score just three goals in five games. Two of those goals were from the penalty spot.
There have been mitigating circumstances – an array of injuries and withdrawals, Maguire’s red card against Denmark – but there’s a sense that this set-up weakens the attack, which should be England’s greatest strength.
How could England line up?
As mentioned earlier, Grealish’s recent displays make him very hard to leave out. He’s got a unique ability to make things happen, with four goals and five assists already in league action this term.
He may be used wide on the left for Villa, but he could move inside for the national side to inject some imagination into midfield. He could form a nicely-balanced trio with Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice. Rice would screen the defence, Henderson can operate box-to-box, and Grealish would look to create in the final third.
That would also allow two of Sterling, Sancho and Rashford to take the wide roles and offer a devastating threat on the break.
It may mean taking away part of the defensive safety net, but that could be a risk worth taking. England aren’t solid enough to rely on shutting teams out, but they do have the firepower to compete with anyone.
All odds and markets correct as of date of publication.