Gareth Southgate is ready to go back to the future in the Nations League double header with Iceland and Denmark.
England boss Southgate is set to deploy a three man defence in at least one of the two next internationals as he been left with a catalogue of selection dilemmas.
Southgate’s call-ups for Conor Coady and Ainsley Maitland-Niles fit perfectly into that formation which served England so well in the 2018 World Cup when they used three centre halves and wing backs.
Wolves captain Coady has been hugely impressive as part of a back three for his club while versatile Maitland-Niles has been terrific at left wing back.
Maitland-Niles is a surprise but nice reward for his progress at Arsenal while Coady has surely deserved his chance before now but his absence must be down to him playing in a back three for Wolves while England have been using a conventional back four.
This will be England’s first international since last November and the coronavirus pandemic plus injuries ahead of the new Premier League season has left his squad decimated.
First choice left back Ben Chilwell is out injured, Southgate did not pick Danny Rose and, incredibly, there is no conventional left back even in the squad.
While that would normally set the alarm bells ringing, Southgate has had going to a back three in his mind for the past year and hinted he might go that way after their back-to-back Euro 2020 qualifiers at Czech Republic and the home win over Kosovo last October.
They lost in Prague while they beat Kosovo 5-3 but made a series of defensive mistakes which left Southgate pondering whether he needed a tactical tweak to get the balance right between defence and attack.
Kyle Walker’s recall must be seen as something of a surprise after he was left out recently and yet the Manchester City defender did play in the back three system at the World Cup.
They also have Eric Dier, Joe Gomez, Michael Keane, Tyrone Mings and now Coady who are all comfortable as part of a back three.
Coady and Maitland-Niles could both get senior caps in one of the two games as Southgate looks for a balance between his wealth of attacking options with Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford are all fast wide forwards.
Rashford may withdraw through injury but Southgate lacks experience in the midfield department without Jordan Henderson and the six selected – Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice, Phil Foden, James Ward-Prowse and Harry Winks – have just 21 caps between them.
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Southgate therefore may bolster his defence, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold can produce width on the right and yet he could still use two wide attackers either side of Harry Kane.
It is needs must for Southgate this time but it will also be an interesting experiment that he was looking at anyway for the Nations League ahead of next summer’s Euros.
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