If England master system, they’ll have a good World Cup
REASON FOR CHEER
THE morning after felt a lot better than the night before had promised to be. The build-up to England v Germany had been something of an anti-climax. There were so many withdrawals that it was difficult to see exactly what Gareth Southgate was going to learn from the match. But by the end there was some reasons to feel more optimistic.
It wasn’t just the excellence of some of the debutants, such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jordan Pickford. There were players like Kieran Trippier, winning his third cap, looking a real option at right-back.
John Stones has come on so much in recent months and is looking so assured. And then, other than an early mistake, there was Harry Maguire (below), who was outstanding. And Joe Gomez handled the ball well too.
In fact, as a former England manager who liked my players to play out from the back, I have to say I looked on in envy. I would have loved to have worked with these defenders.
IT has long since been a hobby horse of mine but I have always believed that the key to playing well at international football is bringing the ball out from the back. Some people believe England can’t do that. I never did.
Gareth Southgate played in my back three and I think he enjoyed that challenge. Others — I’m thinking especially of Tony Adams — took more convincing. They were 4-4-2 men, as were most of the squad. But they came round and I think they enjoyed it. The greatest flaw of the England teams I played in was being over-run in midfield — which is why I wanted an extra man there — and losing possession because we couldn’t play out from the back. You could see Germany could not press us as they wanted to on Friday night because they knew that back three could easily pass it round them. International sides have relied on English defenders being poor in that department for years, either pressing them into mistakes or letting the least able player have the ball, knowing they won’t use it well. You can’t take that risk with this side.
OF course it does not just help you defensively. It is an attacking move to play out from the back. It adds fluidity to the team. Good footballers at the back will see things much quicker. In a split second, they will spot a ball to play, whereas a lesser player, even if they did see it, wouldn’t have the confidence to deliver it. Once your defenders can pick out a pass, the ball is delivered into a dangerous area in midfield much quicker and so you put the opposition under much more pressure.
The opposite of that is dwelling on the ball and then delivering a loose pass or a long ball which concedes possession and puts your team under pressure.
WORD OF CAUTION
DESPITE the reasons to be cheerful, we should sound a note of caution. I remember feeling positive after England beat Germany in Berlin in March 2016. It was only three months from that optimism to the despair of Iceland.
When England looked good in that Germany game under Roy Hodgson it was because they looked energetic and exciting, principally on the counterattack. And we have the players to play that way.
What England have failed to do well is break down teams that sit back against us. That’s where more work is needed. I would still want this team to utilise their speed even against teams that sit deep.
To do so, you have set traps. Let the opposition have the ball for periods, make them think they can come at you. You train for those periods of play. That helps to create the space for you to run into. We need to be better prepared for that kind of game.
LEARN YOUR LINES
WHEN I was England manager, it would take at least a week of working on the training ground to nail down a system so the players had it in their mind.
I hope we do use the back three. We can deploy a front two of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, or have Kane playing in front of Adam Lallana and Deli Alli. But they need to make sure the defensive line is right and that takes work.
Too high and a player like Maguire might get caught. Get caught too low and the wing backs are pushed back, you end up in a back five and you can never get out. That’s what happened to Chelsea at Roma [in the 3-0 Champions League defeat last month]. Chelsea played the back three perfectly for long periods last season but are now being found out a bit.
It’s a hard system to play. With two up front, the second striker has to work especially hard to drop back in. On one side, a midfielder might have to push out to protect against a full-back pushing on from a back four. You’re constantly switching shape.
But this England squad look like they can do it. And if they can master the system, they can build a foundation for a good World Cup.