After 12 months of playing in one formation, Gareth Southgate is reportedly showing that he’s not necessarily wedded to one idea over another.
According to the Independent, Southgate is set to switch England to a 4-3-3 formation, ditching the three-man backline he’s stuck with for the last 12 months. That formation helped solidify England defensively, and certainly played a role as England made a thrilling run to the World Cup semifinals this summer in Russia, ending at the hands of Croatia. The report states that Southgate’s backline for Friday’s UEFA Nations League match against Croatia will be Kyle Walker and Ben Chillwell at outside back and John Stones and Harry Maguire in the middle. In front of them is expected to be a midfield three of Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley, behind a forward line of Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling.
Taking out a central defender allows Southgate to add an attacker, with a 4-3-3 he could play both Rashford and Sterling along the wings instead of having to pick between the two of them, like he did at the 2018 World Cup.
In a way, this report doesn’t really matter that much. In modern soccer, with fluid formations that change between when a team has the ball and when its defending, there’s a chance that it can still look very much like a 3-5-2, if Dier or Henderson drop deep to start an attack, while Chillwell and Walker will likely have the freedom to attack up the wings and let Sterling and Rashford operate within the area of the width of the box.
It could also be a practical move. In this World Cup rematch, Croatia plays a version of the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 that successfully found space along the wings behind the fullbacks to exploit, leading to their 2-1 win after extra time. With Walker and Chillwell operating from a deeper starting position, perhaps that space won’t be available for Croatia’s talented midfield to exploit. If they try, England will have Sterling and Rashford ready to run the soccer equivalent of a “Go Route” to start a counter-attack.