Gareth Southgate’s tactical nous will be under the microscope if England struggle to adapt to another new formation when they face Spain in Seville on Monday (England 11/2, Draw 11/4, Spain 3/4 – Match Betting).
Southgate’s decision to ditch England’s 3-5-2 formation – that brought the Three Lions surprising success at the World Cup – and revert back to a 4-3-3 system against Croatia was not universally well received by pundits and fans alike.
The England head coach, who recently signed a contract extension to take him beyond the 2022 World Cup, jettisoned the tried-and-trusted three-at-the-back system almost as quickly as he did the waistcoat following the incredible run to the semi-finals in Russia.
And he appears to be implementing a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in the belief that the senior side should replicate a formation now used at all youth levels within the national set-up.
It worked to a certain extent against Croatia in the ghostly atmosphere of the Stadion HNK Rijeka on Friday as England dominated possession and created the best chances against the World Cup runners-up, but couldn’t find a goal in a frustrating affair.
Fears that England would not be able to hold onto the ball and fall back into the old ways of hitting it long in hope of forcing a defensive error were dispelled by the calm control exhibited by central defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire, together with an athletic midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier and Ross Barkley.
But the acid test will come when Southgate pits his players against pass masters Spain, who enjoyed the edge in possession against England at Wembley last month when the Three Lions began in their 3-5-2 system.
Southgate’s side, who have gone five matches without victory since their World Cup quarter-final win over Sweden in July, were restricted to having just 45 per cent of the ball in that 2-1 defeat as Spain racked up a total of 648 passes to England’s 535.
That evening, Spain’s pass success rate was an impressive 91 per cent, compared to the hosts 84 per cent, and Southgate’s tactical switch could be as much about disrupting the ability of their opponents to string long spells of possession together as it is about maintaining control of the ball.
His focus on younger players also looks to be a concerted post-World Cup approach as the average age of England’s squad, which was the youngest in Russia, is now even lower with Harry Winks and Joe Gomez likely to be part of the core group heading into the 2020 European Championships (England 8/1 Euro 2020 outright).
Odds subject to change