How Switching to a 3-4-3 Formation Could Get the Best Out of Gareth Southgates England

​Gareth Southgate has not done a lot wrong since he took charge of the England national team in 2016. Yet there is no doubt that he made some mistakes on Friday night as his side crumbled to a 2-1 defeat in Czech Republic. 

The defending, particularly from set-pieces, was shambolic, whilst the midfield gave the ball away on countless occasions. 

The main reason for this calamitous performance was Southgate's team selection, as he opted for the woefully out-of-form Michael Keane and Danny Rose in defence; both of which put in quite shambolic shifts.

It is clear that Southgate needs to learn from these mistakes. 


And in learning from these mistakes, he should see that a return to a back three is the way forward.

Throughout the 2018 World Cup, Southgate opted for a 3-5-2 formation. The obvious reason for this was that he did not fully trust his defence, so by adding an extra centre back it brought a little more stability to the back line.

Following England's run to the semi-finals at that tournament, Southgate reverted to a 4-3-3 formation. He was now convinced that England had sufficient options in defence, with Harry Maguire an ever-present, while John Stones and Joe Gomez were expected to battle for the other centre back spot. 

However, over the past 12 months, Stones and Gomez have struggled for game time at club level, and have looked rusty and inconsistent when they have been handed opportunities. This has forced Southgate to turn to Keane, who is playing badly in an underwhelming Everton side. 

England v Spain - UEFA Nations League A

The solution for these defensive woes has to be a return to a three-man defence.

Granted at the World Cup, England's defence still had issues. Kyle Walker and Stones had a tendency to lose concentration, while Maguire did look slow and ponderous at times. Yet they all complemented each other well to make the best of what they had. Walker offered pace, Stones was the most comfortable with bringing the ball out from the back, while Maguire was the most solid defensively.

Southgate can re-create that with his current squad. Gomez, who is still only 22, is good on the ball and would be the quickest in the back line. Stones has shown that he does have the ability to be a fine centre half when he is fit, and with an extra defender alongside him, his mistakes would likely be less costly. Meanwhile, Maguire is going through a difficult spell, but remains a class act who will return to form in time.

Okay, so we have the defence looking a little better, but will that take something away from the rest of the team?  

In a word - no.

Jadon Sancho,Harry Kane,Raheem Sterling

By sticking with three forwards, Southgate can still call upon the electric trio of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane who will cause any defence problems.

So now we move onto the midfield. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold has convinced most people across Europe that he is one of the best full-backs around. One man who seems less certain is Southgate.

The reason is not completely obvious, but it seems that he is a little concerned by Alexander-Arnold's defensive work. Whenever anyone mentions the Liverpool right back, it tends to be that they are talking about his crossing and passing ability. There are not many full-backs that can even come close to the number of assists that he delivers.

Nevertheless, having grown up as a midfielder, the defensive side of his game is still a work in progress. There are times in games when he can be caught the wrong side of his man. At club level he has the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho to mop up after him; England do not have those kinds of players at their disposal as well. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold

This is why playing him as a wing back would be the ideal solution. It would allow him to get forwards and show his outstanding ability in the final third, whilst also meaning that he has a little more cover behind him from the back three so that his forays forwards do not leave the side exposed to the counter-attack.

Then on the left flank we would have Ben Chilwell. The Leicester full-back has not cemented his place in the England side just yet, but after Rose's abysmal performance on Friday, it is time to give Chilwell a run in the side. He is far from the finished article, but has shown in the Premier League that he has a fine delivery from the left, and deserves his chance as a wing back under Southgate.

The centre of the midfield is much more up for debate, as England don't really have many outstanding candidates to play there. Many want to see James Maddison given more of a chance, and were disappointed when he withdrew from the latest squad due to illness.

There is also plenty of interest in the development of Mason Mount, who has started the season well at Chelsea. Yet the key thing that the midfield needs to bring is balance to the side. This is where Harry Winks and Jordan Henderson come into play.


For years people have complained about the lack of creativity in the England midfield. It remains a problem, but looking at the rest of the side this team should not have an issue with creating chances. They would have two wing backs who both offer plenty from out wide, while the front three score and create chances for fun.

The main reason that England were unable to utilise their talent in attacking areas on Friday was that their ball retention was abysmal. 

Some may look at a player like Winks and think - what does he do? He does not create or score goals. That's true. However, he is an exceptional recycler of the ball. With someone capable of doing this in the middle of the park, England's full-backs and front three would be allowed to flourish. 

Similarly, Henderson is not a flashy player. He too does not score many, but his work rate cannot be underestimated, and his ability to tuck in and cover for the wing backs when they are caught upfield would be crucial to the side. 

Jordan Henderson

This does not mean that you completely ignore your creative midfielders. Southgate can look to the likes of Maddison and Mount from the bench if necessary. They can change the game even if they are not starting it.

This England side is far from perfect. They have been slowly building over the last three years under Southgate, but now is the time to look at how they can make the next step. Player for player, England are still a little behind the likes of Belgium and France. Yet with a change in tactics which can get the best out of the squad, they can start to close the gap ahead of Euro 2020.

Over to you Gareth.

Source : 90min