England is in a ‘new era’
Southgate’s final World Cup plans are falling into place. It appears that his favoured shape and format are coming into view after the latest friendly win against Nigeria at Wembley.
Southgate announced that the team that started the 2-1 victory over Nigeria may not necessarily be the one that lines up in Volgograd, “but it won’t be too far away.”
Defender Kyle Walker has said that the unity within the England squad will help players flourish at the World Cup.
“I fully believe in the players that we have in the squad. The manager has brought some brilliant ideas and we’ve all bought into it,” Walker, said.
“I’ve seen players come and go and it was a different atmosphere before.”
“Now that we all click, I feel quite comfortable sitting with anyone and talking to them, whether it’s football or absolutely anything.
“That’s the environment that we need to take into the World Cup because the quality in the team is going to show for itself but also the togetherness is going to pull us through.”
Walker’s selection on the right side of the back three against Nigeria can be regarded as experimental but Southgate rightly pointed out that this is often where he ends up playing for Manchester City. Thus adding the vital quality of raw pace that is lacking elsewhere in England’s defensive ranks.
Southgate’s intention is to combine balanced defensive solidity with pace and threat down the flanks. He is utilising his resources sensibly, with surely, only minor fine-tuning left at this late stage.
As for the composition of England’s midfield – it has long been a source of debate. There has been concern over Southgate performing the delicate balancing act between establishing a solid foundation while having the creativity required to open up defences at Russia 2018.
Nigeria’s timid first-half display places this victory in context but Southgate will have been given real food for thought by what he saw at Wembley. Southgate has often relied on the defensive midfield duo of Tottenham’s Eric Dier and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, a pairing which is strong on reliability but short on creation. It was a formation in its infancy but offered lots of promise for Russia. England can be satisfied with their win and their performance, albeit with the usual rider of a second-half disrupted by a raft of substitutions, and Southgate’s tactical framework is now clear.
He is, as he should be, convinced by the system he is employing, firmly believing it best serves the modern demands and also the players in his England squad.
The signs are promising. Greater tests are to come for this emerging England team but it is clear to see why Southgate believes this tactical approach gives cause for cautious optimism.
“It’s a different era, a different group of players,” Southgate said, “ A lot of them have played together in the younger age groups.”
“At the moment there hasn’t been an intense club rivalry that perhaps existed 10 or 15 years ago.
“Maybe that will happen over the next few years but for now they are enjoying each other’s company” – which former England and Chelsea full-back Graeme Le Saux believes; “can help build the type of resilience to get through some hard moments on the pitch.”