Gareth Southgate may be bringing football home despite England's lack of stars

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It is not unfair to say there have been higher quality England squads in the past.

The World Cup winners of 1966 of course lead the way, Bobby Robson’s Italia ’90 side was full of some of the best attacking talent the world had to offer at the time, while the so-called ‘golden generation’ of the new millennium flattered to deceive despite their wealth of world class ability.

The latest incumbent are a talented bunch, without being, on paper at least, crammed with world beaters.

However, Gareth Southgate and his coaching staff have worked hard on a system that can eek every inch from the England squad, while focusing on set pieces, which aren’t always the prettiest, but can decide pivotal games nonetheless, and you know what? It is working.

Yes, it is ‘only Panama’ as the more pessimistic fans have been keen to reiterate in a sweltering Nizhny Novgorod over the past few days, but England still got the job done in the most emphatic fashion.

The 6-1 win can partly be put down to just how poor Panama were. The defending, at times, was as bad as it gets, but England’s interchangeable system also contributed a great deal to the massacre.


Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland has been explaining the new 3-5-2 system this week to journalists, keen to reiterate how much thought went into introducing it, and how it was no overnight decision to throw out the old 4-2-3-1 set up.

One tweak that they have made just ahead of the World Cup has been very successful, with Southgate flipping the midfield three to go from two holding midfielders to two attacking and one anchor.

Every player that started against Panama plays their part in the fluidity of the impressive system, with Southgate adapting the system to really make best use of everyone.

England v Panama: Group G - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier are both excellent full-backs, but the back five with both of them in it, Walker driving the ball out of defence with his speed, and Trippier supplying cross after cross down the right, works brilliantly.

Then, as a further additional threat, Jesse Lingard and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with no rigid position, can float around behind Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, making them very difficult to pick up. Sterling also has similar freedom, meaning the three of them can link up at will, just as they did for Lingard’s brilliant goal in Nizhny - one of only two England goals scored from open play at this tournament so far.

In normal circumstances, offering your greatest threat from set pieces is ridiculed by some, as some form of anti-football tactic, but England are not simply lumping balls into the box and hoping, they have clearly been working on set plays on the training ground, as was proved by John Stone’s second against Panama, after a neat routine picked him out in space.

It is actually the antithesis of anti-football - Southgate is aware that England haven’t got the plethora of multi-faceted forwards like France, Germany’s attacking midfield arsenal, or Brazil’s flair players, so he works with what he has and, so far, successfully.


England could not have been handed a easier start, in reality, and with qualification assured, they can start to prepare for those sterner tests to come.

While other big hitters have struggled to find their fluidity, unsure of their best system, never mind best XI, Southgate and England have nailed it, and there is still quality to come off the bench in the likes of Marcus Rashford or Jamie Vardy - a Plan B primed and ready.

Fans are getting carried away as they head to Kaliningrad for the final group clash with Belgium, where the winner will top the group - whether that is what England want is a different issue, with Germany up against it to top their group, where a second spot would put them on course to meet England in the last eight.

However, there can be no letting up from Southgate. Yes it has only been Panama and Tunisia, but this new system works. Test it against Belgium, and if it is successful, then that will stand them in good stead for the knockout rounds, regardless of who their opponents are. Then, who knows, football may be coming home after all.

Gareth Southgate
Jesse Lingard
Harry Kane
England Football
World Cup

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