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Form, formation and Foden: Big challenges facing Southgate ahead of World Cup | England


Players compete at club level

Gareth Southgate risks getting into trouble when he selects players based on reputation rather than form. The England manager has argued that he is right to consider international performances when he selects a squad, but with several key figures struggling at club level, it will be interesting to see how far Southgate’s streak of loyalty will go before the World Cup.

There are problems in all directions. At left-back there are concerns with Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell, who recently returned from a serious knee injury, and Luke Shaw, who has lost his place at Manchester United. Midfielder Calvin Phillips, absent this camp from shoulder problem, has hardly played since his move to Manchester City. Further forward Mason Mount is suffering a slump at Chelsea, while Jarrad Bowen has not impressed for West Ham this season. Is Bowen really a better bet than Jadon Sancho?

Then there’s Harry Maguire. United’s centre-back poses Southgate’s biggest conundrum. Will he follow Eric ten Haag and dump him? United have been much more solid without Maguire and there is no excuse for Southgate to be his starter when he is not playing for his club. Fikayo Tomori has been playing every week for AC Milan, who won Serie A last season, while Eric Dier has excelled for Tottenham.

Three or four behind?

England’s disastrous start to the Nations League could force Southgate to become even more pragmatic. Memory of There are riots in Hungary remains raw at Molineux and it will be no surprise if England line up in a 3-4-3 formation when they play Italy on Friday and Germany on Monday.

But much will depend on how Southgate sets up the team. Rhys James and Chilwell would be progressive options at full-back. A fluid front three can be exciting. Declan Rice’s strike partner in midfield can be a game-changer.

The problem, however, is that Southgate leans towards the negative. It is possible England lack central defenders to play in a 4-3-3 formation, but the argument against caution is that they are hardly short of creative players. Is it time to play on your strength?

Ben Chilwell (left) and Rhys James at England training last year. They would be a progressive choice at fullback. Photo: Nick Potts/Pennsylvania

Decide on Alexander-Arnold

Trent Alexander-Arnold is a brilliant football player. He crosses it stunningly, his range of passes is superb and he is regularly one of Liverpool’s best creators. None of this means it’s guaranteed to go in World Cup. Alexander-Arnold’s defensive struggles for Liverpool are hard to ignore. He is not the same player for England. He has not been a success for Southgate, who has often favored the less exciting but more reliable Kieran Trippier, and the sense is that Alexander-Arnold needs this camp to go well. Otherwise, it’s hard to see the point in Southgate shoving four right-backs into his squad.

Get the best from Foden

Ahead of Euro 2020, there was a lot of excitement about Phil Foden. The City youth appeared from dyed blonde hairwhich inevitably drew comparisons with Paul Gascoigne’s form at Euro 96, but he ended up disappointing the tournament for reasons largely beyond his control.

It was frustrating for Foden, whose international career had yet to begin. However, England need to figure out how to use him. He is a player trusted by Pep Guardiola, who has used Foden as a winger, false 9, No. 10 and No. 8. England, who have not scored from open play in their last four games, should benefit from Foden’s ingenuity.

Phil Foden (left) in action for England against Scotland at Euro 2020.
Phil Foden (left) in action for England against Scotland at Euro 2020. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Lean on Kane and Sterling

Southgate needs more from the forwards. England are too reliant on Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling for their goals. Mount needs to take more responsibility on the ball and Southgate wants Bowen, Bukayo Sakho and Jack Grealish to emulate Sterling in scoring goals from the wings.

England are stale in attack. The threat comes from Kane, but what happens if the captain doesn’t serve, has a bad game or gets injured? Southgate needs depth. However, on current form, Tammy Abraham has yet to prove he is a suitable replacement. Ivan Tony drafted for the first time, will be hoping to prove that he can be a plan B for England. That is a concern for Southgate, who could be busy with Marcus Rashford recovering from an injury which has seen the United forward miss those matches. Rashford, who has shown signs of getting back to his best, has taken the burden off Kane and Sterling in the past.


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