Southgate set to radically change England plans for quarter-final

Gareth Southgate is preparing to rip up the plans he has used so far at Euro 2024 and radically change England’s formation in an attempt to get more width from his side and put more of his best players in their best positions.

For Saturday’s quarter-final with Switzerland, England are likely to switch to three centre-backs for the first time in a competitive match since the Euro 2020 final against Italy three years ago – and it may mean Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden both playing as No 10s.

That is one of the options that Southgate has been experimenting with in training where, Sky Sports News has been told, he has tried various formations and various players slotted into the different roles.

It is clear the England boss is still undecided about who will occupy central midfield alongside Declan Rice – a key decision if England are not to be overrun in that department against Switzerland in Saturday’s quarter-final.

The planned change of formation seems driven by two factors: the suspension of Marc Guehi, who has been England’s most consistent defender in the tournament so far, and the fact that privately, Southgate has accepted that what he has tried so far in Germany has seen his players perform at way below their best.

Kieran Trippier‘s availability, after concerns about his minor calf problem and the heavy knock to his knee that he picked up against Slovakia, could yet mean Southgate has a change of heart, and returns to a flat back four. But that is not currently an option in training, Sky Sports News understands.

The three centre-backs look set to be John Stones, Ezri Konsa and Kyle Walker – with Walker’s pace seen as the ideal foil to sweep around the back, if Switzerland break through the England defence.

Ezri Konsa (left) looks set to replace the suspended Marc Guehi (right) in the England defence
Ezri Konsa (left) looks set to replace the suspended Marc Guehi (right) in the England defence

But Southgate has yet to decide who will play as wing-backs, with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Bukayo Saka, Trippier – and even Eberechi Eze – possibilities to play in those roles. Luke Shaw‘s inclusion has also not been ruled out.

How will England’s attack look?

If, as expected, Southgate does switch to three centre-backs, it is not clear whether England’s formation will be 3-4-3, 3-5-2 or even 3-4-2-1 – with Bellingham and Foden in the creative roles behind Harry Kane. It is thought Southgate has tried all of those formations in training in Blankenhain in the build-up to the game.

How best to accommodate Bellingham is becoming a key conundrum. In many ways, he is England’s best player, but also Southgate’s biggest problem.

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Jude Bellingham scored a glorious overhead kick in the 95th minute to take England’s game against Slovakia into extra time and spark scenes of celebration across the country.

Southgate could ask him to play deeper than he has done all season for Real Madrid – as a ‘No 8’ rather than a No 10 – but there are concerns that having not played in the role for so long, he may not have the positional discipline to make it effective defensively.

There is also a risk that if you give both Bellingham and Foden a free role, they may take up each others’ space and make the same runs – which has been a problem already in this tournament when Foden has drifted in from the left wing.

The other option under consideration, according to sources, is to play either Kobbie Mainoo or Conor Gallagher in a ‘number 6’ role alongside Declan Rice. This would provide the two defensive midfield buffers that have been a common theme of Southgate’s time as England manager, but it will limit the number of offensively-minded players on the pitch.

The other option, which would line up in a 3-5-2 formation, would include Ivan Toney alongside Kane up front.

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Ivan Toney responded to Gareth Southgate’s comments that he was in

Toney impressed Southgate with his performance in extra time in Gelsenkirchen – setting up Kane for the eventual winner. He also held the ball up well and gave England an outlet when they were under pressure in defence – something that has been lacking somewhat, with the England captain dropping deeper in many of the games so far in order to try to influence the play.

Either way, it seems inevitable that the large stall of wingers in Southgate’s squad will be redundant against Switzerland – each of the systems the England coach is considering has width provided by the wing-backs, rather than by more advanced wide-men.

That means Anthony Gordon and Jarrod Bowen are likely to find it difficult to get any game-time in the quarter-final, with Cole Palmer an option at number 10, most likely off the bench.

Depending on how the game progresses, however, Southgate has the personnel to switch to a back four, or any of his other formation options, and utilise the players on the bench. The England boss has made bold substitutions in the games so far, switching players at half-time or early in the second half.

Who will start at wing-backs?

When it comes to the wing-backs, Southgate has plenty of options, but none that have played in that role recently for their clubs. Saka is the biggest conundrum – having told the media in the lead-up to the last-16 game that he didn’t want to switch to full-back.

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Before England’s last 16 gam with Slovakia, Bukayo Saka gave his say on whether he thinks he should start at left-back for England.

Nevertheless, he did that for a short period in the chaos of extra-time against Slovakia, and he may well be asked to do so again on Saturday. He will most probably be asked to switch wings, from right wing to left wing-back.

Southgate hasn’t yet ruled out the possibility of Shaw starting at left wing-back, I am told – even though that would be a huge risk, with the Manchester United defender having played no competitive football for almost five months.

It is thought Shaw is desperate to play, and feels he is fit and ready to do so, after having no reaction from a clear week of training. Southgate has yet to decide whether his inclusion from the start for the quarter-final is a risk worth taking. He also needs to decide whether he is prepared to sacrifice Saka in the process.

On the right, it is a straight choice between Alexander-Arnold and Trippier, both of whom could be asked to perform the more natural role they play for Liverpool and Newcastle respectively.

England had a closed training session on Thursday, away from the cameras, but it is thought Southgate was preparing to fine-tune some of his new positional plans in that time.

The England manager usually tells his players his final starting XI on the night before a game, and so there is still much to be decided.

But it is clear – after much clamour for change from pundits and fans outside the camp – Southgate is now planning a radical re-shuffle, as his team heads into a major quarter-final.

England’s potential route to the Euro 2024 final

England will play Switzerland in the quarter-finals on Saturday in Dusseldorf in a 5pm kick-off, UK time.

Were England to beat Switzerland and reach the last four, then they would then play in a semi-final in Dortmund on Wednesday July 10; kick off 8pm UK time.

Netherlands and Turkey are the possible semi-final opponents for the Three Lions. The final is in Berlin on Sunday July 14; kick-off 8pm UK time.

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