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Tactical Analysis: How England could set up for Euros success

With less than three months remaining before the European Championships start, it is time to start looking ahead to the tournament.

The current international break will see most of the teams playing friendlies in preparation for the tournament, tactical set-ups and systems could be tried out.

England’s case is perhaps the most interesting. The Three Lions have an abundance of talent in the squad, but the question is how to fit the best of it into a functional starting XI.

The starting point is the squad, so here are the players England called up for the latest international break. Kobbie Mainoo was added later.

Gareth Southgate has an exceptional wealth of attacking talent to pick from with no way to squeeze everyone into one line-up.

He will have to consider various options and finally decide what he feels is the best XI in terms of quality and functionality.

There are a few basics we can establish. Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka, John Stones and Jordan Pickford must be considered nailed-on starters.

Formation-wise, a back four seems to be the way to go given England’s lack of top-quality depth at centre-back and their potential question marks at left-back, which would only be magnified if the position is converted to a wing-back.

With that in mind, here are a couple of options that Southgate may be considering:

Simple 4-2-3-1/4-3-3

The 4-2-3-1 was England’s primary formation at the World Cup, so it makes sense to consider that as the first choice.

The main difference between then and now must be the role of Bellingham, who seems best as a number 10 now having previously played deeper in midfield both for club and country. Based on his comments, Southgate appears to have recognised this.

Given the Real Madrid star’s exceptional game intelligence, he is sure to form a great partnership with Kane, who also often likes to drop away from the opposition centre-backs.

The pair could make counter-movements to test defences in behind, while Bellingham may also drop deeper to help get the team further forward.

Given the dynamics of these two central attackers, Marcus Rashford should be the first-choice left winger due to his tendency to threaten in behind.

Even if he is out of form going into the tournament compared to, say, Jack Grealish, the Manchester United forward’s profile should give him the edge.

The real conundrum is in midfield, where Rice’s partner needs to be decided. Jordan Henderson has been Southgate’s trusted pick in that position over the years, but after his move to Saudi Arabia and now the Netherlands, many people are questioning whether he is still at the level to start for the national team.

Mainoo’s late call-up to the current squad suggests he might be one option, and the manner of his breakthrough at Manchester United indicates that he could well be up to the task.

The backline will likely include Luke Shaw on the left, Harry Maguire and Stones as the centre-backs and either Kyle Walker or Trent Alexander-Arnold at right back.

This system leaves no space for Phil Foden despite his excellent season with Manchester City which has seen him register 11 goals and seven assists in the English Premier League.

The 23-year-old attacker is clearly best off centrally, but displacing Bellingham is out of the question. The only way to accommodate Foden and Bellingham is to switch to a 4-3-3.

There is a potential risk of being too top-heavy in this system. England may be susceptible to counter-attacks against stronger opponents if they completely commit the front five to the attack and leave Rice alone in the midfield despite the Arsenal midfielder’s exceptional defensive qualities.

An Inverted full-back

Considering all of this, one wildcard shout could be to use Alexander-Arnold as an inverted full-back, just as he has operated for Liverpool regularly in the last year. This is what that might look like:

Both Man City and Arsenal use this type of system while Man United have also occasionally experimented with it, so most of the players should be comfortable with this set-up from a tactical point of view.

To take things a step further, fielding Walker at right back and asking Alexander-Arnold to invert from the left is an option.

Walker would add more solidity to the base in possession, but defensively this may be a step too far as the Liverpool full-back’s defensive weakness could be exposed.

However, this could be the most sophisticated and functional way for England to set up at the Euros while squeezing in as much attacking talent as possible.

3-4-3 as a backup

At the last Euros, the 3-4-3 seemed to be England’s backup option, and Southgate has continued to occasionally use it in friendlies subsequently.

Given England’s depth quality at centre-back compared to midfield and attack, this does not seem the best starting option, but the simplest way to reach the attacking set-up we discussed above would be to start in a 3-4-3.

On the flip side, a back five out of possession could offer more defensive solidity against strong attacks in pressure situations.

The best case for the Three Lions to consider switching to a back three is when they are defending a lead against tough opponents. To get into such a situation in the first place, one of the back four systems may work better.

Stats courtesy FotMob.

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