South­gate will switch to three at the back at the World Cup

Eng­land to al­ter shape to stop los­ing the ball Ster­ling and Rash­ford at risk in new for­ma­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Ja­son Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Gareth South­gate is in­tent on Eng­land play­ing a three-man de­fence when they go to the World Cup in Rus­sia.

The Eng­land man­ager has set­tled on his pre­ferred for­ma­tion and will use it in next month’s friendlies at home against Ger­many and Brazil.

Eng­land will line up in a 3-4-2-1 or 3-5-2 for­ma­tion and South­gate plans to con­tinue with it in two more friendlies – prob­a­bly against Hol­land and Italy – in the spring be­fore fi­nal­is­ing his squad.

“We have to fo­cus on a sys­tem and re­ally try to hone it, work on it, im­prove it,” South­gate said fol­low­ing the lack­lus­tre 1-0 vic­tory in Lithua­nia that com­pleted the qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign. “That might mean we might have to leave some good play­ers out. But we have to start to make those de­ci­sions over the next cou­ple of camps.”

South­gate used the for­ma­tion in Vil­nius and has tried it be­fore, most no­tably in the friendly de­feat in Ger­many, and is now shift­ing away from the 4-2-3-1 line-up he stuck with dur­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Talk of pos­si­bly leav­ing “some good play­ers out” of his start­ing XI may raise ques­tions as to where the likes of Ra­heem Ster­ling and Mar­cus Rash­ford fit into the team.

In­ter­est­ingly, South­gate played Ster­ling as the “No 10” be­hind striker Harry Kane against Slove­nia – an ex­per­i­ment that did not work – while Rash­ford could be in line to un­der­study Kane at the World Cup.

That is be­cause it ap­pears South­gate’s pre­ferred two be­hind the cen­tre-for­ward will be Dele Alli and, when fit, Adam Lal­lana in what also re­sem­bles an at­tempt to repli­cate the ap­proach taken by Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur – with Lal­lana in the role filled by Chris­tian Erik­sen. It could also en­able Harry Winks to re­main in the squad.

Al­ter­na­tively, South­gate sug­gested he might play two strik­ers at times, with Rash­ford and Jamie Vardy also in his think­ing to part­ner Kane. “I think Vardy is an im­por­tant player for us as well, and will score goals, and give us a dif­fer­ent threat with his pace,” he said.

There was less good news for Daniel Stur­ridge, who came on as a late sub­sti­tute in Lithua­nia. “In terms of Daniel, it’s like a cou­ple of oth­ers, they need to be play­ing reg­u­larly with the club and play­ing as well as pos­si­ble,” South­gate said. “He had a cou­ple of starts but op­por­tu­ni­ties have been a bit lim­ited,

so it is very dif­fi­cult to start him in an Eng­land shirt if that’s the case.”

What does ap­pear cer­tain is that he will favour a three-man de­fence, partly to over­come Eng­land’s in­abil­ity to re­tain pos­ses­sion in mid­field – those cen­tral berths are still a prob­lem, no mat­ter the for­ma­tion – where they also lack cre­ativ­ity, and he ex­plained his think­ing more fully on that. He wants to make Eng­land hard to beat.

The sys­tem had been used be­fore and with suc­cess by Bobby Rob­son, Terry Ven­ables and Glenn Hod­dle. But it went out of favour for Eng­land with Steve Mcclaren’s one-off use of it in a dis­as­trous 2-0 de­feat in Croa­tia in 2006. But it is in vogue in the Pre­mier League, with Chelsea, Spurs, Arse­nal and, on oc­ca­sions, Manch­ester United and Manch­ester City us­ing it.

“For me, in terms of the way we’d want to play from the back, I think it [a three-man de­fence] is a bet­ter op­tion,” South­gate said. “At the mo­ment, we turn the ball over too much and when we do, we split into two cen­tre-backs wide open – we are still open [against Lithua­nia] with three. So, we will ben­e­fit if we don’t keep turn­ing the ball over!

“But I think it gives us good sta­bil­ity and it gives us eas­ier so­lu­tions for our mid­field play­ers as well. Then, what we play in front of it, is a pos­si­bil­ity to switch, maybe get two strik­ers in in cer­tain games, or play like we did [with two wide be­hind Kane]. Three in mid­field and two for­wards also be­comes an op­tion. But I think three at the back is what we ought to do.”

It ap­pears that Phil Jones, John Stones and Gary Cahill are the most likely to make up that back three, with Michael Keane their strongest chal­lenger. South­gate gave a full de­but to Harry Maguire, with Chris Smalling also in his squad for the last two matches, although he did not fea­ture.

“I think we have got some young play­ers who are able to use the ball, all three cen­tre-backs who played [against Lithua­nia],” South­gate said. “Jones is an­other one. Cahill is play­ing at Chelsea in a back three. We have to in­vest our time in those guys, and al­low them the op­por­tu­nity to im­prove.”

Up un­til now, South­gate has ad­mit­ted he has been con­ser­va­tive in his ap­proach.

“I think you have such lit­tle time to work with the play­ers that the more clar­ity they have un­der pres­sure, then they will know what to fall back on,” South­gate ex­plained. “We felt in the qual­i­fy­ing games, with 4-2-3-1, we wanted wide play­ers who were able to ex­ploit the width, and try to break down the packed de­fences, but we recog­nised along this jour­ney what we are ca­pa­ble of in cer­tain ar­eas of the pitch. So, it helps to switch be­tween two sys­tems but, for me, that would both be with three at the back.”

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