Phil Foden’s masterclass at Anfield was another example of how Gareth Southgate’s thinking needs to change for the upcoming euros.
As he sped past Andy Robertson and slammed a shot into the roof of the Anfield net, he announced himself as ready for the big stage. His technique is brilliant, and under Pep Guardiola he’s becoming a truly exceptional player. Fortunately for England, he’s not unique as a talented attacker. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Jack Grealish are just a handful of them available for the Three Lions. However, Gareth Southgate’s conservative style could be an issue.
Their last match against Belgium is a case in point. Mason Mount was put on the right of the front three alongside Jack Grealish and Harry Kane. With Jadon Sancho on the bench, Southgate had a serious wide option on the bench. However, with Mount, a lack of pace and direct threat allowed Belgium to settle into the game. England struggled to create a threat outside of Grealish and Belgium secured a comfortable 2-0 win.
It should be said, the defensively-minded 3-4-3 does have advantages for some players in his squad. This namely counts for Harry Maguire. With his lack of pace, he can struggle in a back four. However, in a back three, he has cover for his lack of speed, and can take more responsibility on the ball. For England’s attacking players though, the formation doesn’t suit their strengths.
Working with four attackers in the lineup, a double pivot of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson would be a great option. Comfortable in a midfield two at his club, Rice, partnered with Jordan Henderson could provide a solid base in midfield. Playing with a number 10 also allows the likes of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and James Maddison to play in their best position.
In this formation too, it’s easier for England’s attackers to rotate their positions. So much of what makes the best teams effective in attack is their unpredictability. If there’s one thing Gareth Southgate’s England team has become, it’s predictable. If they can switch things up and allow their attackers the freedom to express themselves, there is serious potential there.
Southgate had his best time as England manager in his first major tournament. However, unless the balance of England’s attack changes, whether through formation or personnel, it’s hard to see another semi-final appearance coming.