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What is England's Best Formation ahead of Euro 2020?

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Southgate still living in the dreams of 2018

Gareth Southgate has now been the England manager for four years. Successes at the World Cup in 2018 captured the hearts of nearly every Three Lions fan over that glorious summer, but a stagnation period has started to muddy the waters for the 2019 third-placed Nations League side.

Recent displays have lacked that edge and bite we have seen in previous years, with just three goals scored throughout the Nations League campaign; two from the penalty spot and a solitary deflected effort.

With the current cohort of players possessing talent in abundance, it seems Southgate is often stunted by the plethora of systems and styles at his disposal. Currently, the 3-4-3 formation is the one he prefers, relying heavily on the talent of wide players; both wing-backs and attackers.
Players such as Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling flourish in this system, and Southgate is right to place them at the forefront of his team. As well as this, the depth in wing-backs is almost world-beating, and placing the emphasis on the wider areas frees up room in the middle for the likes of Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The main drawback with this current system, which has been highlighted in recent defeats against Denmark and Belgium, is the centre of midfield; a position the Three Lions have normally excelled in. Nowadays the England manager seems to favour two defensive-minded players in the middle, which is usually a variation between Declan Rice, Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson, all of which rarely threaten in the attacking sense or create for club and country.

Although this provides cover for the defence, where there is already a back-three ready and waiting, making what should be a very attacking formation seem blunted and lack in creativity, forcing such questions on Southgate's ability a coach and his ageing style.

However, the ex-Middlesbrough man isn't exactly spoilt for choice. Whilst Nations League rivals Belgium boast of players like Kevin De Bruyne and Youri Tielemans, England's Rice, Eric Dier and Henderson have fewer goals in their career than De Bruyne has had in the last three seasons.

This isn't to say Southgate is completely starved of creativity, however, as times have progressed since the 2018 World Cup with players like Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young moving on to let stars such as Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Mason Mount come through.

The future is certainly in England fans' minds with these kinds of players, but unless Southgate finds a way to make defensive brilliance work alongside their incredible creative talent, the country could enter Euro 2020 stale and unprepared across the midfield.

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What are the alternatives?

As we saw in the latest defeat to Belgium, the one bright spark was Grealish. Although predominantly operating from the left, his willingness to get forward, ability to take the pressure off the team, and new-found maturity means he absolutely must warrant a place in the team.

The double-pivot currently employed by Southgate almost completely disregards one of England’s richest positions, with the likes of Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and James Maddison all able to occupy an attacking midfield role.

Ideally, this would mean reverting back to a 4-3-3 formation, much like the one we saw during the 2019 European Qualifiers where England one seven of their eight games, scoring 36 goals in the process.

Not only would this free up two attacking positions within the midfield, but it would also force Gareth Southgate to make a concrete decision on his chosen centre-back pairing, instead of having to chop and change a defensive three. Although questions would be raised about the defensive cover, the likes of Alexander-Arnold and Ben Chilwell often show their defensive discipline on the flanks for their respective clubs.

Alternatively, if England find themselves up against a team with real calibre who like to dominate possession, Gareth Southgate could certainly opt for a 4-2-3-1. His insistence on playing a defensive midfield is protected, while strikers such as Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have the ability to hold up the play by themselves and drop further in-field.

This formation could create even more dynamism and variation to the attack, which has seemingly been lacking in recent performances. Ultimately this England side needs free reign to push forward, with this current pool of players collectively forming an incredibly bright future.

By Charlie Rhodes

To Make the Euro 2020 England Squad Odds

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