England came in for a lot of criticism after their 2-1 slump to the Czech Republic. The midfield came under some huge scrutiny with Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson very much in the firing line. The elation of the 2018 World Cup has now died down and manager Gareth Southgate knows he must continue to innovate what he has brought to the table, perhaps seeing Liverpool as a new form of inspiration.
England were miles away when Southgate took charge. His massive over-achievement last summer filled a nation with so much hope. He instilled a basic identity of playing out from the back and everyone really bought into it. Now, the manager has to hone in on what he really wants. His makeshift formation worked wonders in Russia but now it is time for something a little more sustainable. He will need time to get that right.
Gareth Southgate Needs to Try Something New
England Full-Back Joy
Southgate has some incredible options at full-back, particularly at right-back, so it makes sense for these areas to be utilised to the maximum. In order to do that, though, the best options have to be selected.
Trent Alexander-Arnold should walk into England’s team. Kieran Trippier has performed well for Atletico Madrid since moving to Spain so punters who complained of his inclusion are perhaps a little harsh. However, Alexander-Arnold is one of the world’s best offensive full-back players and he offers so much to his club. He is quick and passes a ball like a top-class midfield player. Depending on the game, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is probably the only right-back who Southgate should be looking to choose instead of the Liverpool man because Manchester United’s summer signing is a superb defensive-minded alternative.
On the other side, Ben Chilwell has to become England’s answer to Andy Robertson. The Leicester City defender has an excellent reputation and he will be the subject of much interest in the next transfer window. Chilwell recorded five assists last season but there has always been the sense that he could deliver more. He is very quick and that means he can get into some really good positions so he has to make sure he gets the most out of that.
The Three Lions can very easily let their attacking play stem from their full-backs. Chilwell may not be at Robertson’s level but he’s one of the Premier League’s top three left-backs. Alexander-Arnold is the league’s best-attacking right-back so there would be absolutely no problems there. There are the makings of an industrious midfield but perhaps not the makings of a creative one. Therefore, it makes sense for Gareth Southgate to copy the Liverpool blueprint of channelling attacks through the full-back options.
The reason England played with a back-three, or a back-five, was because the midfield options weren’t very good. The problem with that system, though, was that it limited the exciting forward options of Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho. The front-three of Sterling, Sancho and Harry Kane is certainly one that gets the mouth watering, but it’s important that they can fulfil that on-paper potential.
Kane to Play the ‘Firmino Role’
Kane has the look of Roberto Firmino when he drops into deeper areas. The Tottenham Hotspur forward has more strings to his bow than simply scoring goals and he often looks to showcase his creative talents when he plays for club and country. By doing this, it should open up spaces in behind for Sancho and Sterling to exploit. Sterling and Marcus Rashford did just that against Spain in a 3-2 friendly victory last year.
Kane often moved into deeper positions for England in last summer’s World Cup but had limited success. He finished as the tournament’s top scorer with seven goals but looked beleaguered and frustrated in deeper positions as the competition reached its later stages. Dropping deep as one of only two strikers with no wingers on the field meant that England’s attacks would often look pretty lightweight.
The only issue to Kane taking on the Firmino role is the chemistry that he has with Sterling and Sancho. He has to build that in these international matches if it is something that is to succeed in tournament football. Of course, he is a predatory goalscorer as well so whether he has the selflessness to completely flourish in that role is another question.
Things are never straightforward with England. When they have a team of superstars, the manager cannot seem to make them gel. When they have a manager who wants to imprint a strong, progressive philosophy, he doesn’t have enough world-class performers to make that football happen overnight. The signs remain good but there is no proof in the pudding as of yet.