Gareth Southgate has suggested he will name no more than eight defenders in his squad for Euro 2020 as he works out how best to accommodate the attacking midfielders and wide forwards at his disposal.
The England manager took nine defenders to Russia for the World Cup and his plans for this summer will be shaped by his desire to set up in either a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 formation, meaning players who can operate in more than one role could be important. For the World Cup in 2018 Southgate was fixed in his intention to play 3-5-2.
Southgate reverted to a back four for the World Cup qualifying wins against San Marino, Albania and Poland, influenced by the fact it allows him to get an extra forward‑thinking player on the pitch.
Kyle Walker moved from the right of the defensive three to right-back and Southgate referenced Walker’s flexibility while also noting that the left‑backs Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw could operate on the left of a three.
The trio appear certain to be selected for the European finals, together with Harry Maguire and John Stones – leaving Southgate potentially to pick three defenders from the right-backs Kieran Trippier and Reece James and the centre-halves Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings. Eric Dier retains hopes of being involved while Trent Alexander-Arnold is out of favour.
“We have some players who can play in more than one position,” Southgate said. “In Russia, we played Walker in a back three. Shaw has played in a back three for Manchester United, Chilwell has as well [for Chelsea]. It’s not essential to have more than eight defenders and the more we take the less we have in other areas of the pitch we might want to refresh. We’ve got to have enough to cover ourselves but we also have to get that balance right across every position.
“Heading into Russia we were very clear we were going to be 3-5-2 and that we were going to pick the players to fit that system. We’re a bit more fluid and adaptable now and we’d like to cover some different possibilities. We have some exciting wide players and players who can come in off the line and play as an attacking 8 or 10. We’ve got to find a way of getting them into the squad.”
Southgate’s options in those areas are extensive, taking in Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Harvey Barnes and Jesse Lingard. It is inevitable some will be disappointed, together with players in other positions, and Southgate said he would communicate openly across the remainder of the season to ensure any bad news did not come as a shock.
“I’ve spoken to quite a few already this week and I will do over the next couple of weeks so that they know exactly where they sit because I think that’s helpful,” he said. “You’ve got to manage expectations and have some reality about what they might need to do between now and the end of the season.”
Southgate was asked whether he had decided between a back three and a four. “Very good question,” he replied. “Some of that is going to depend a little bit on availability of certain players. We’ve got to have that flexibility. Ideally you want to get attacking players on the pitch and that’s harder with a back three. But there is that balance of making sure we are not open at the back.”
The search is on for clues as to the composition of what Southgate calls his “batting order” in the various positions and Kalvin Phillips provided one when he said James Ward‑Prowse was supposed to start ahead of him against Poland on Wednesday.
“I think Ward-Prowse was going to play and pulled out injured on Tuesday night,” Phillips said. “I didn’t actually know until Wednesday morning that Ward-Prowse wasn’t playing. It was a quick turnaround and a little bit surprising. But I always feel ready.”
Meanwhile, a small number of Scotland fans will be at Wembley for the Euro 2020 match against England after it was confirmed that travel to London from Scotland would be allowed under the Covid road map. Uefa said recently that only domestic fans would be allowed at group matches, with the hope this would be relaxed during the knockout rounds, and the UK government is happy this fits with that policy.
The game is scheduled for 18 June, at which point a maximum crowd of 10,000 should be permitted. But the hope is 25,000 supporters will be allowed to attend in preparation for increasing Wembley’s capacity to 50% later in the tournament.