Coach sig­nals an­other tac­ti­cal rev­o­lu­tion as he builds for fu­ture

Switch to 4-3-3 will face ma­jor test against Spain Man­ager aware time is short be­fore Euro 2020

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Sam Wal­lace,

It is al­most a year since Gareth South­gate made the change that would launch Eng­land’s Rus­sia 2018 ad­ven­ture – the 3-5-2 for­ma­tion that he staked the team’s World Cup progress on post-qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Now the time has come, the Eng­land man­ager says, to move on.

The first signs were there in last month’s de­feat by Spain, when he said his side were too eas­ily penned in at Wem­b­ley, and it was not much bet­ter when they squeezed a vic­tory against Switzer­land at the King Power sta­dium three days later. An ad­di­tional worry is that Eng­land are not scor­ing goals, or even look­ing like they might, and as he re­flected on their 0-0 draw with Croa­tia in Ri­jeka, South­gate said that it was the right time for a change.

It had been the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber when he adopted the 3-5-2 for­ma­tion af­ter qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Rus­sia was as­sured. Kyle Walker was shuf­fled over to a right-sided cen­tre-back. Harry Maguire came into the team around that time and was even­tu­ally obliged to play as a right-footer on the left side of the three cen­tre-backs. It was a bold move from South­gate, launched in the Novem­ber friendlies against Ger­many and Brazil and worked on at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity af­ter that.

Against Croa­tia in Ri­jeka, he fi­nally went back to 4-3-3 and for all Eng­land’s lack of cut­ting edge in at­tack they held their own in mid­field against two of the finest play­ers in that po­si­tion in the world, Luka Mo­dric and Ivan Rakitic. There will be an­other se­ri­ous test against Spain in Seville to­mor­row when, most likely, Harry Winks will re­place the sus­pended Jor­dan Hen­der­son and South­gate gets to see how his play­ers adapt to 4-3-3 against a na­tion that has it in its blood.

“We need to have al­ter­na­tives and op­tions,” South­gate said. “In the sum­mer we had a choice. We ei­ther fo­cused on get­ting one sys­tem as em­bed­ded as we pos­si­bly could, or we tried to di­vide our time and have al­ter­na­tives when maybe we would not have got to the same level do­ing both. We felt at that stage we wanted to fo­cus on per­fect­ing one sys­tem and we recog­nise that took us so far.

“But there are weak­nesses in the 3-5-2. [Against Croa­tia] we were able to show that some of the things we ob­served in the semi-fi­nal, and in the game against Spain last month, in this sys­tem we were able to cor­rect them.”

South­gate has al­ways ex­pressed his faith in Harry Kane, Ra­heem Ster­ling and Mar­cus Rash­ford to score the goals if the chances come their way. In the empty sta­dium in Ri­jeka it was not Rash­ford’s best night but hav­ing scored against Spain and Switzer­land, he re­tains his man­ager’s faith. “We love him to bits,” South­gate said of the United man, “so he’ll take more of those chances than not.”

The flaws in the 3-5-2 sys­tem had be­come too ob­vi­ous to him in re­view­ing the semi-fi­nal de­feat by Croa­tia when a tired Eng­land side just strug­gled to con­trol the game, es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half. He wants his play­ers to pass the ball out from the back and the cover of five de­fend­ers meant there was some lee­way for er­rors if they made them.

“In sim­plest terms without the ball [in 3-5-2] we don’t cover the pitch quite as well,” he said. “So we weren’t able to get pres­sure high up the field and the last two or three op­po­nents have pinned our back five back with three for­wards, or two wing-backs and a for­ward, and that meant we were get­ting a bit over­loaded in mid­field.

“[Against Croa­tia] we were able to get bet­ter pres­sure on their back four and on their mid­field play­ers. But we also felt go­ing into the sum­mer that a lot of the de­fence was very new and the com­fort of the five gave us some sta­bil­ity to build the game.

“We were learn­ing the style we wanted to play, and [needed] to al­low for some mis­takes that we felt in play­ers’ first few games of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball looked like hap­pen­ing. So I think some­body like Maguire now has es­tab­lished him­self. He looks like a top player. That al­lows us to go to the four [at the back].”

The 22-year-old Winks won his only cap a year ago and lost most of last sea­son to in­jury but was in the Spurs side who lost 4-2 to Barcelona at Wem­b­ley and is clearly re­garded by South­gate as part of the team’s fu­ture, es­pe­cially given the style he wants to play. Joe Gomez is likely to re­place John Stones and had the Liver­pool man not missed the World Cup with in­jury he may well have started ahead of Maguire.

South­gate said: “We have play­ers in [Nathaniel] Chalobah, Winks, [Ross] Barkley – who re­ally missed a year’s foot­ball – and it is great to see them back, Gomez the same. Harry we know is a player who con­nects the game re­ally well and who can re­ceive un­der pres­sure. It is still early in his de­vel­op­ment – I was speak­ing to him about the game with Barca last week and those nights you learn so much from. But he is the type of player we want to build the fu­ture around.”

With a new con­tract signed and the semi-fi­nals and fi­nal of Euro 2020 to be played at Wem­b­ley, South­gate is keenly aware he has lim­ited time to de­velop a new team: “We recog­nise you have to keep pro­gress­ing and ad­vanc­ing. For me, the most im­por­tant thing is we build for two years’ time. We could live hand to mouth and pick teams that are maybe more ex­pe­ri­enced for a game like [Croa­tia].

“We could have played more of our more ex­pe­ri­enced right-backs at left­back and not given [Ben] Chilwell the op­por­tu­nity, but in do­ing what we did you find and dis­cover a player who looks very com­fort­able at this level. So, I think we have to try to con­tinue that process of we al­ways know we have to keep get­ting re­sults but also looks to two years’ time.”

In the swim: Harry Kane (above), James Mad­di­son and Ma­son Mount (left) en­joy some down­time yes­ter­day in Croa­tia

Team spirit: Eng­land play­ers re­cu­per­ate in the Adriatic be­fore mov­ing on to Seville for to­mor­row’s match against Spain

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