Gareth Southgate will have woken up this morning with selection dilemmas swirling around his head after England’s 4-0 win over Iceland.
Phil Foden’s two-goal performance, allied with impressive displays by the in-form Jack Grealish and Mason Mount have given him a plethora of attacking options as he weighs up his squad and starting line-up for next summer’s delayed Euro 2020.
That trio have all made strong cases to not only be in Southgate’s 23 but to start, though they still have captain Harry Kane and established forwards Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford ahead of them in the pecking order. Throw exciting winger Jadon Sancho into the mix and Southgate has seven attacking players with legitimate claims to start.
Gareth Southgate has an array of attacking talent to choose from ahead of the Euros
With four months of Premier League and European football to be played between now and the next international break, it would be no surprise to see the likes of Mason Greenwood, Callum Hudson-Odoi, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes forces themselves into the equation too.
Kane is still the first name on the teamsheet depsite his six-goal drought, though he now has his strongest supporting cast ever with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Danny Ings and Tammy Abraham vying for the back-up striker spot.
What is clear is that Southgate must find a way out getting the best out of his embarrassment of attacking riches if England are to challenge for the Euro crown. Find a system that does that, and they could well go on to win it.
Here, Sportsmail assesses the England manager’s tactical options as he looks to build the best team possible for next summer…
England captain Harry Kane is on a six-match goal drought playing in a 3-4-3
STICK WITH 3-4-3
Having deployed a 4-3-3 system for the entirety of Euro 2020 qualifying and throughout the first edition of the Nations League, when England lost in the semi-finals, Southgate abandoned it for a 3-4-3 at the start of this run of eight matches in three months in September. Of England’s 13 goals in those matches, 10 came in friendlies against Wales and the Republic of Ireland and a dead rubber against Iceland. So that’s just three goals in five meaningful competitive matches, which Southgate will be well aware of.
Jamie Carragher succinctly summed up the problems with playing the 3-4-3 from an attacking perspective on Sky Sports on Wednesday night. ‘At the moment in Kane and Sterling, England have two of the best in Europe,’ he said, ‘but only one other player can play – Mount, Foden, Sancho, Rashford. That’s the big question, why go to 3-4-3?’ Could it be that the switch has been to accomodate England’s array of top class right backs? It sounds ridiculous to say, but the evidence bares it out, with Kyle Walker operating in the right centre back role allowing for one of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Reece James to play as a wing back – in the Denmark defeat he even squeezed three right backs in with Trippier at left wing back.
Raheem Sterling (L) is a key player and Marcus Rashford has been preffered on the left (R)
If getting right backs into his team was Southgate’s thought in September, it will now be how to get all these attacking midfielders and forwards in, given the performances of Grealish, Foden and Mount in the last three matches. ‘It’s not so much the system, it’s about getting four attacking players in the team,’ says Carragher, and Mount did show that one of the central midfielders can be that fourth attacking player – though it’s far easier doing that at home to Iceland in a dead rubber than against a major nation in a knockout tournament. The only logic that points to Southgate sticking with a 3-4-3, given the poor results and attacking players available to him, is that England only have a handful of friendlies now to get ready for the Euros and a switch of system in March would be leaving it late.
If he does stick with it, expect to see Grealish, Foden, Sancho and possibly Mount or Rashford all on the bench for the Euros, with Kane and Sterling carrying the attacking burden.
Mason Mount showed he can operate in a midfield two with his performance against Iceland
A 3-4-3 allows for two forwards either side of Harry Kane, with Mount an option in midfield
RETURN TO 4-3-3
Oddly, the switch to 3-4-3 came despite Southgate staying with a 4-3-3 for six matches after the Nations League semi-final defeat by Holland, with England winning five and scoring 27. Clearly, he took issue with that defeat by Czech Republic and the five goals conceded in that period – though England did keep clean sheets in each of their last three matches playing 4-3-3.
In all, Southgate played 14 straight matches with a 4-3-3 from the 0-0 draw with Croatia in October 2018, with those matches resulting in 10 wins, two draws – including the penalty shootout win over Switzerland in the third-placed Nations League play-off – and two defeats, with 47 goals being scored at a rate of more than three goals a game, and 12 goals being conceded at just under one a game.
The loss of faith in the 4-3-3 was arguably more based on the personnel available to Southgate, rather than the system itself. John Stones lost his way, leaving question marks over the centre of defence, while Harry Winks and Ross Barkley lost their places at club level too, leaving Southgate with a dearth of central midfield options. Those issues have now improved, however, despite still remaining issues.
Eric Dier’s move to centre back at Tottenham has given Southgate another option there, while Tyrone Mings’ form continues to improve for Aston Villa. Kalvin Phillips provides another defensive midfield option in the squad alongside Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice, freeing up the attacking midfield roles either side of the midfield pivot. Those could be filled by Mount and Foden, allowing Southgate’s other five attacking stars to compete for the front three spots. Grealish also provides an option in the attacking central midfield roles.
Phil Foden (left) scored his first England goals this week – and was assisted by former Man City team-mate Jadon Sancho (right) for one of them
A 4-3-3 could see Foden and Mount operate deeper, with less competition for the three forward spots allowing Grealish a better chance of starting
SWITCH TO 4-2-3-1
A third option, not a radical one though one which Southgate has not yet tried for England, was suggested by Ian Wright on ITV on Wednesday night. The 4-2-3-1.
By deploying two holding midfielders – Henderson and Rice, with Winks and Phillips also options – the defensive frailties that the 4-3-3 can expose are theoretically diminished, while a platform is set for Southgate to pick four of his seven attackers and let them play with freedom. This would leave three of them on the bench, rather than two, but offers a halfway house between the 3-4-3 and the 4-3-3.
Playing a No 10 in a 4-2-3-1 – a role which Foden, Mount, Grealish or Sterling could fill – would stop Kane from dropping deep as he has done so well for Tottenham, though given his goal drought perhaps going back to playing as an old-fashioned No 9 would appeal to him.
Jack Grealish has forced himself into Gareth Southgate’s thinking this autumn
A 4-2-3-1 would allow Southgate to field four attacking players with two holding midfielders