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An Abundance of Talent: How England would see success in a 4-2-3-1 formation

Five years since the last. Euro 2020 2021 is scheduled to set the nation alight with the same pride and passion which brought so much joy in 2018.

What has changed in this time is the plethora of creative midfield choices Gareth Southgate has at his disposal. However, this presents a welcome problem. What is the best way for England to line-up their midfield if they are to reach Euro triumph?

Grealish. Foden. Maddison. Mount. Jones. Sancho. Jude-Bellingham. An explosion of English creativity sparking excitement the likes of which England fans have not experienced since the rise of a certain Gerrard/Lampard.

The issue which faces Southgate is how do all those players fit into an English system. England have been notably branded with a ‘conservative’ style of football, favouring a defensive stability over an expressive attacking play, usually achieved with two defensive midfielders.

The surge of new talent offers a chance to change the traditional English set up. By adopting a 4-2-3-1 formation, Southgate can optimise the best of both their attacking creativity and defensive solidity. Replacing Southgate’s traditional back 5 with a back four would offer an additional player in the attacking midfield which can utilise some of the dribbling talent which has been developed over the last four years.

Spain saw their success from 2008-12 in a similar formation. Of course, I am not likening Phil Foden’s potential to the talent of a prime Iniesta (not yet anyways) but under this formation, England would have the full access to their long list of creative players. 

Jack Grealish

Even with an additional man, it is still tricky to determine a trio of attacking midfielders. Grealish, who has been one of the most exciting players to watch in the Premier League this season, would adopt well into this formation. 

The 4-2-3-1 formation is not dissimilar to the formation Dean Smith uses for his success this season. Playing Grealish on the left would be deploying him in the same position that has seen him bag 10 assists and six goals this campaign so far. The only difference this time is it is FIFA World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane on the end of his passes.

What also suits Grealish well in this system is the solidity of the defensive midfield. Henderson and Rice fill in a bank of two in front of the back four alleviating one of Grealish’s weaker points to his game: his defensive work rate. 

It is no doubt no, Grealish’s dribbling and attacking play would be a pleasure to watch for fans. No other English player has managed more dribbles per game on average this season than Jack Grealish (2.8 pg) and no other player has a higher average of key passes per game than him (3.4 pg)

His flair and pace would be a threat to any team that faced him, as Liverpool found out at Villa Park in that remarkable 7-2 score-line 

It is hard to imagine a midfield to striker partnership between Grealish and Kane going wrong, especially with Grealish’s key passes per game surpassing any other player in the league.  

Mason Mount 

Lampard’s theoretical wonder child. Ever since becoming a main stay in the Derby County team, Mount has never looked back, following Lampard from the Rams to the blue side of London. In the space of three years, Mount has gone from an undiscovered youth talent to a favourite to appear in the England Euro set up

Chelsea hold a gem in their hands. Mount is Chelsea’s highest rated player this season according to whoscored.com and it is hard to disagree.

What works well with Mount is his defensive work rate and strength on the ball. This makes him difficult to place in a 4-2-3-1 as he is not as creative as the other attacking midfields have. He also is not as defensively sound as the Rice and Henderson pivot Southgate looks likely to deploy. This makes him versatile as a substitute but hard to place as a starter over other options in a 4-2-3-1

James Maddison

James Maddison could fill in the centre attacking midfield role, one he has done so successfully for Leicester’s 4-2-3-1 system this season. In this role he has contributed eight goals and five assists. 

Playing forward to Harry Kane to hold up the play as we’ve seen in the latter’s partnership with Son at Tottenham would work beautifully with the collection of pace within the England squad. 

What may let him down is his passing. At only 82.6% pass completion rate, Southgate may need to sacrifice some of Engalnd’s control of possession to play him in the squad 

Phil Foden

The definition of a player foaming with potential. Foden has been called “the most talented player” by his Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. But would this talent fit in to a 4-2-3-1 formation?

Yes.

Foden’s versatility allows him to play on either side or through the centre or off to the right side in a 4-2-3-1. His three appearances for England so far have seen him net three goal contributions, a fantastic start to his England career.

He has also impressed domestically and become a key part for Pep Guardiola, scoring six and assisting three.

Foden has also provided 1.4 key passes per game on average and completes 1.3 dribbles, driving play forward. 

What comes as a disadvantage to nearly all of the players stated is their lack of England experience. There are a combined 17 appearances between all the players already discussed with Mount gathering the most caps on 13. 

Jadon Sancho

Joint second in key passes per game in the Bundesliga (with Kimmich), Sancho offers England’s best right midfielder attacking option.

He also adds excitement and progressive play to England, successively completing 3.2 dribbles per game, third in Bundesliga. 

What also adds to Jadon Sancho is the experience he has in a different European League. Nearly all of England’s potential Euro squad players play in the Premier League (excluding Kieran Trippier). 

Raheem Sterling 

An England guaranteed starter for the last 6 years. Sterling is one of England’s most deadly players, with blistering pace and fantastic skill when needed. Playing in a 4-2-3-1 may not be his best interest. Traditional a left winger, Sterling likely would have to play further back. Supplying chances to the striker rather more than crafting a chance for himself.

His key passes at 1.3 per game is lower than the other options Southgate can use. However, the finishing prowess of Sterling may be too invaluable too this England set up. Nine goals league goals this campaign show his importance in one of the most difficult teams to make a name for one’s self.

His hat-trick against Czech Republic for England also makes the point of his importance while wearing the Three Lions shirt 

Different options

Curtis Jones has shone brightly since becoming a main starter for Klopp’s men. Recent Anfield form inspires a pessimistic view upon their new English talent. However his strength and dribbling on the ball would be a huge asset to England.

Jones’ creativity is yet to be highlighted in the Premier League. He has struggled to make goal contributions, no doubt impacted by the form and inconsistencies of the side. 

Despite this, he demonstrates great control. A 92.3% pass completion rate, the fifth highest in the Premier League. 

A 4-2-3-1 would also be a much different system to what Liverpool play. To throw him into such a shape on his first appearance in international football at the Euros may be a step too early for the Liverpudlian.

Playing in a 4-3-3 would offer the chance for both Mount and Jones to be best utilised, playing in a way that would almost be a rotation between attacking and defending

Jude Bellingham is also one for the future. Playing some exciting football for Dortmund leading to 3 assists this season in 10 appearances, eight of which came from off the bench. He is most used as a central midfielder, sometimes pushed back into a defensive midfield position.

It may be too early to involve him in Euro 2021, but he is certainly one with a promising future in an England shirt.

As stated before; this is a new system for England if they chose to adopt it. To go to the Euros and play a system which has not been played under Southgate before would be risky.

The 4-2-3-1 formation brings plenty of positives for an England team with vats of midfield creativity. However the drawbacks include playing some of England’s best players out of position like Sterling.

Will this summer bring silverware back to English isles? Possibly

Will this summer bring one of the most exciting team selections in England’s recent memory? Definitely.

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