At the 2018 World Cup, moving to a three-man defence was widely acclaimed as a masterstroke by Gareth Southgate. However, the jury is still out and whether when it matters most returning to a similar shape will prove equally effective. As a disciple of former Three Lions boss Terry Venables, Southgate may return inevitably drawn to a back three in the search. They will be returning for greater stability and optimum balance. There have been signs that Southgate’s 3-4-3 system can cause the best teams problems and not least in the second half of Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Belgium in Belgium Vs England.
For long periods, England probed the Belgian, albeit without testing Red Devils goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with any great frequency.
Jack Grealish delivers
Growing in confidence and influence as the match wore on, Jack Grealish was the biggest plus by some distance. In the opening 20 minutes, he was the most fouled player. By the end, Belgium couldn’t even get close enough to bring him down. The ease with which he took to his first start in a competitive international one sublime turn leaving Thomas Meunier for dead.
As Belgium sat camped on the edge of their own box the 25-year-old carried the fight, content with their two-goal advantage. England’s system enabled the Aston Villa midfielder to be so prominent. Poor execution partially explained the visitors’ inability to score from promising positions rather than a complete absence of creativity.
Belgium Vs England : Post match discussion
“I am not sure we could have been any more creative than we ended up tonight,” said Southgate post-match. “We ended up with five in which two attacking wing backs and three attacking forwards. I think we showed against Wales and Ireland, you can score goals with the system. The games are right against the very best teams. It provides me with more belief personally. As a manager, you have got to focus on performance. If you play at the level we did tonight, you will win more games than you lose.
England Vs Belgium: First half of match
However, in the first half, the stability and balance Southgate aimed for was largely absent which ultimately lost them the match. With the ball in the midfield, they were too conservative. Harry Winks rectified an issue in the part introduction as a half time substitute for Jordan Henderson. He reported muscle tightness and felt he couldn’t carry on according to Southgate. No doubt it will set off further alarm bells at Liverpool. As during this international break he has already lost Joe Gomez to a serious knee injuring.
Mitigation should be offered in the form of notable absentees among Marcus, Rashford, Harry Maguire, Raheem Sterling and Trent Alexander Arnold. But even with those players available, there is growing evidence that the 3-4-3 shapes won’t help maximize England’s strengths.
Performance of Southgate
Performance of Southgate in defeat to Belgium was arguably the most threatening of the 2020 – 21 sessions. But after scoring just three goals in five games England are out of Nations League
Southgate will have four months to scrutinise and evaluate the flurry of internationals condensed into a short time frame after Wednesday’s Nations League match against Iceland. Whereas, Grealish’s performance against Belgium was a reminder that England now possesses more than a handful of talented people who is capable of imposing themselves on the best teams around. But trying that into a winning tournament formula is still the challenge.