England fans finally get what they want: Changes from Gareth Southgate

England fans finally get what they want: Changes from Gareth Southgate

DUSSELDORF, Germany – Gareth Southgate is going back to his old look. 

The head coach wore a sleek vest during the 2018 World Cup and everyone liked it, sparking a run of sales on similar items at menswear stores across England.

OK, so it’s not that specific old look that Southgate is going for in England’s Euro 2024 quarterfinal against Switzerland on Saturday, but the reversion he is plotting to make may turn out to be just as popular.

The vest – they rather charmingly call it a waistcoat in England – might have been dumped permanently, but after needing Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane’s rescue act in the round of 16, Southgate appears poised to adopt a new formation, which is actually an old formation, and might get some of the horde of critics off his back.

As long as it works.

A suspension to Marc Guehi has reportedly prompted Southgate to plan on a three-man defense that would effectively mirror the Switzerland formation in Dusseldorf. Reasonably, Southgate reckons that if he copies how the Swiss line up, his team’s greater man-for-man array of talent may have a better chance of shining than it has so far.

Of course, international coaches don’t come out straight up and advertise these things, but the switch has been talked and written about to such an extent the past couple of days that it is being taken as done. 

Jude Bellingham & Harry Kane late game heroics for England

To reach this point, the English press and public have read the collective tea leaves, peered at the system used during snippets of training sessions where viewing was permitted, listened to the words of defender John Stones and basically prayed that their hunch is right.

Southgate is no longer as beloved as he was in 2018, when an underdog team reached the World Cup semis. More is expected, perhaps demanded, now; after the desperate near-miss of losing in the Euro 2020 final on penalties to Italy, and the emergence of global talents like Bellingham and Phil Foden.

The team’s performances in Group C were uninspiring and the showing against Slovakia — until Bellingham produced a flash of magic from an overhead kick — was downright insipid.

It can be dangerous to move around the chess pieces mid-tournament, but the feeling is that unless Southgate does so, his team is done for. And probably his tenure as head coach with it.

“We’ve done (back three) in previous tournaments,” Stones told reporters. “I remember (against) Germany at the last Euros. Previously to that, in 2018. I think it is a great thing to have in the locker if we need to play that system.

“It is something that shouldn’t be underestimated for us as a team. We can do it so seamlessly and easily, and kind of click together.

“They bring different outlooks for us over the years. Opposition-wise, it causes them a problem. We are really fluid in both.”

Using three central defenders would almost certainly see Stones marshal things from the middle spot of those three, with Kyle Walker to his right and Ezri Konsa, used as a sub against Slovakia, on the left.

Such a formula requires a pair of wing backs, which is where some doubt lingers. Kieran Trippier is far more comfortable on the right, as opposed to the left-back spot where he has struggled all tournament, with Trent Alexander-Arnold another option.

Left wing-back could go to Bukayo Saka, or fascinatingly, Luke Shaw. Shaw has not played since February due to injury, but was brought to the tournament to be potentially used if he could regain his fitness in time for the business end. It’s here.

England’s Bukayo Saka scores two goals against Iran

By itself, four-into-three may not be a dynamic instant fix, but it is hoped it would lead to less endless passing for passing’s sake, as has swiftly become the norm.

By extension, it may finally lead to Foden and Bellingham connecting better. Whether the back three ploy is combined with the introduction of Anthony Gordon or Cole Palmer, either or both of which would be a firm departure from the safety-first parameters, remains to be seen.

Switzerland has emerged from the group stage of the last six major tournaments, but has never progressed past the quarters. It has been a strong presence in the tournament, holding a late lead against Germany before being pegged back to 1-1 in the final round of Group A games.

Murat Yakin’s team then took apart a listless Italy in the round of 16 and has been boosted by influential midfielder Granit Xhaka being cleared to play after shaking off an injury concern.

“I’m not going to say we will win the tournament,” Xhaka said. “But we are going to do everything we can to get there. I feel like we’re not done yet. We’re hungrier than ever.”

The sense throughout has been that England’s lack of fluidity means it is there for the taking. The tactical switch will either cure the problem or provide yet more ammunition for Southgate’s critics.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.