Gareth Southgate says he was pleased with the effect of England’s 4-3-3 formation in their 0-0 draw away to Croatia, and that it has already started to solve what was a growing problem.
The manager pointed to how his side largely “dictated the flow” of this game – and that against a team with Luka Modric – compared to the World Cup semi-final defeat against the same opposition and how wide players pinned back his wing-backs in other recent matches.
Southgate explained that the previous 3-5-2 had given some players the opportunity to adapt to international football, but that it is time for the team to develop more options, and that he is pleased with the result – even if England could not quite the win.
“In the last few matches, we’ve been pinned back in different ways, with three opponents pinning our five back. Against Spain that was the two wingers, and the wing-backs against Switzerland. We were outnumbered without the ball. We had trouble building up in the pressure. Tonight we got further up the pitch, our three midfielders did an excellent job, and we used the ball well against a very good team. I’m very pleased with it.
“The players adapted quickly and well. The system... the three at the back, the 3-5-2, allowed some players to bed into international football. People like [Harry] Maguire, going into the World Cup, I felt we needed a bit more protection for the defence and the opportunity to get two forwards in the game. Now the players are more established and look comfortable as a back four. We’ve got some strong number-eights and wingers coming through, so it’s good to have the opportunity to play different systems.”
“It feels like a game we should have won,” Southgate said. “The performance deserved that. First half pretty even, but a very good chance from the corner. They had one from a cut-back. They had one reasonable chance second half, but we dictated the flow of the game for a long period and the second half performance was excellent, pushing right to the end. I couldn’t ask more from the players. We just have to make sure we finish the chances. On another day, we will.”
As regards the highly curious circumstances of a match played behind closed doors, with Croatia punished after a swastika was chemically burned into their pitch ahead of a previous international, Southgate felt his team adjusted well.
“I think the application of the players was superb really. There was no let up in their work ethic throughout the game. Defensively they were really strong, showed good enthusiasm to play, and our performance was really good. The only disappointment was we didn’t take one of the chances we had, but I was really pleased with the way we played.
“They’re hugely proud to play in the shirt. We talked just before the game... not an easy pitch, either, especially in that final third with people slipping with their footing. The ball bouncing up at the wrong moment. But good teams adapt. Good teams, whatever the circumstances or the atmosphere or the pitch, find a way of playing. I was pleased the players did that tonight.”
Jordan Henderson and John Stones picked up bookings that will keep them out of the match away to Spain on Monday, but that will allow Southgate to reshuffle the side.
“It doesn’t make life any easier, but it’s opportunities for other players. It’ll be a really good test for us in Seville, with thousands of fans there. These players give absolutely everything. I could never question their commitment or intensity of their game. Again, a couple of players have emerged... [Jadon] Sancho had a really good impact when we eventually got the ball to him. Lots of encouraging things. We’ll look [if they go home]. My preference is the group stays together, but I have to look at the travel and what’s best for the players. It may be better for them to get back to the clubs.”
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