Southgate's England set-up is admirable but could be vulnerable

Gareth Southgate’s desire to play out from the back is admirable but this 3-4-3 system offers little margin for error… England put Wales to the sword but a losing control against a more ruthless side will have grave results

  • England overcame Wales 3-0 in a friendly match at Wembley on Thursday night 
  • Gareth Southgate fielded a team with just 54 international caps between them  
  • He is determined to make his 3-4-3 system work ahead of Euros next year
  • But the system could falter if England lose control against a better opponent  

Time is against Gareth Southgate and he wanted to make that point as he geared England up for the latest test of this most unusual autumn.

It was pointed out to him that England have only three camps to prepare for the European Championships but, quick as flash, Southgate pointed out that three camps does not mean he is applying the finishing touches for next summer.

‘We have had to start again,’ Southgate explained. ‘We never played for 10 months. We lost all our momentum.’ So much happened between England matches, it is perhaps easy to forget that last autumn brought a blizzard of goals – 27 of them, to be precise, in six matches from September to November as they made short work of dispatching inferior opposition.

Gareth Southgate is determined to make his 3-4-3 system work with England but his desire to play out from the back against Wales looked more like style over substance

Time to study over the summer has led Southgate to tweak the formation that was so dashing towards the end of 2019 and 3-4-3, rather than 4-3-3, will be the way he wants to go as he plots to win the rescheduled tournament.

The first sighting of it in Denmark last month was underwhelming. Some players looked ill-suited, some appeared to find everything uncomfortable and the 0-0 result reflected 90 minutes that could kindly be described as scratchy.

For much of this fixture with Wales, scratchiness was again evident as Southgate continued with a formation he believes can give England a new dimension. 

His Three Lions players have looked uncomfortable with the set-up at times and that continued at Wembley on Thursday night 

It would be wrong to say this line-up is the one that will begin things next June but, even still, it was not out of the question to expect better.

The first 45 minutes, in particular, were a test. Southgate’s desire to play out from the back is admirable but those little passes from Nick Pope, to either Joe Gomez or Michael Keane, sometimes appeared to be more for style rather than substance.

A better team than Wales would have hounded England out of possession and the consequences of not being control in a better match, against more ruthless opponents, will have grave results. Southgate has chosen a system in which there is no margin for error.

England got the job done against Wales but must be wary against stronger opposition 

Eventually, England put clear daylight between themselves and Wales but the question will be can they do it in a proper game? We will find out the answer on Sunday, when the world’s top ranked team arrives in town to provide a stern examination.

Southgate’s team for the clash with Belgium will have considerably more caps than the combined 54 that started against Wales. 

It remains to be seen if they can make 3-4-3 look a little more handsome – and whether they can regather that lost momentum. 

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