We are less than 60 days away from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, and it doesn’t look like football will be coming home this winter. Gareth Southgate’s side have been woeful throughout the calendar year of 2022. The three lions failed to score an open play goal in each of their first five Nations League games, resulting in their relegation to Group B for the next edition held in 2024.
Under the management of Gareth Southgate, England have been tactically inept. The 3-4-3 formation employed by the manager has held back the attacking instincts that has defined this young, fearless side, resulting in some of the best players in Europe failing to string together a group of passes in the opposition half.
Despite having a wealth of attacking talent at their disposal, including players like Kane, Sterling, Saka, Mount, Foden, and Rashford, England play a stale brand of defensive football. This sort of approach would be acceptable if the team were defensive juggernauts like the Italian teams of old. However, in recent games, England can’t even hold their defensive shape adequately, and there are way too many errors from players such as Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, and Nick Pope in the backline.
Gareth Southgate has put too much blind loyalty in players that haven’t repaid the faith, and the problem England have before the World Cup is there isn’t enough time to give other players such as Aaron Ramsdale, Fikayo Tomori, or Ben White an opportunity.
England’s next game is their FIFA World Cup opener against Iran on the 21st of November in Doha. The team that started this run of Nations League Games will – barring injury – take the field at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Unfortunately for England fans, if no drastic changes are made, the result seems to be only heading in one direction. The most likely scenario is England will top their group with wins over Iran and the USA – via a Harry Kane penalty – before falling out in the Round of 16 when they come up against a team with actual quality and a decent defensive shape.
Although the players are elite, there isn’t enough evidence in Southgate’s method to suggest any other eventuality. The 3-4-3 system used doesn’t work, and the players are unsure of what to do with and without the ball.
It doesn’t have to be like this, though. There is still enough time before the first ball is kicked at the World Cup for England to change up the system and get the best out of their players. Here is how England should line up to give themselves the best chance of winning the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Despite ditching the 3-at-the-back system, England can still achieve a compact midfield shape with a 4-2-3-1 system using a double pivot to protect the back four.
In goal, Aaron Ramsdale is the best English goalkeeper with the ball at his feet and should start at the World Cup in Qatar if Southgate’s instruction is to play the ball out the back. At right-back, Reece James is better at defending than Alexander-Arnold and better at attacking than Kyle Walker and seems the most balanced option for a team that needs defensive solidity and the full-backs to offer width. Luke Shaw has the left-centre back place on lock, while John Stones is the best English defender. Harry Maguire’s place is still in contention, but because of the lack of experience from the other English centre-halves on the left and the Manchester United defender’s height and set-piece strengths, he gets the nod.
In the double pivot, Declan Rice is a shoo-in, while Jude Bellingham and Kalvin Phillips offer different strengths alongside him. Phillips is a better passer who offers more ball retention and control in big games, while Bellingham has a more all-round game and can be more box-to-box. Those two can be interchanged depending on the opposition.
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are sure-fire starters in the front four, given their pedigree and international exploits. Joining them on the right should be Bukayo Saka, England’s player of the year for 2021/22. The Arsenal star is the best natural right-winger on the England side and offers more directness and purpose to the English attack from that side than Phil Foden. Stylistically, Foden is more suited to the centre and playing as a number ten. The issue is that the Manchester City man has hardly played there under Pep Guardiola at the club level and has been largely used as an outlet in the front three.
Thankfully for England, Mason Mount can be as good in that playmaking position, and the Chelsea star also does a lot of the off-the-ball work that managers love. A front four of Sterling, Kane, Mount, and Saka is what worked well for England at the Euros and should be the line-up Southgate goes with at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It offers better balance on the ball and gives England a chance to control games in the opposition half with some sustained pressure or attack on the counter in transition moments.
England are fighting to win an uphill battle ahead of the FIFA World Cup. The team are not playing football that befits the tag of world champions, and the manager is on borrowed time. All roads point to an early exit in Qatar, but fortunately for Gareth Southgate, it’s not too late to change the fate of this team with some tweaks to the system.
[Featured Image Credit: England Football Team]