How will England set-up against Germany?
Gareth Southgate is set to go back to the future and revert to a three-man defence for England’s European Championships last-16 tie against Germany at Wembley on Tuesday night.
And England manager Southgate has told his players they can create an iconic moment in the country’s football history that “lives forever” by beating the Germans on home soil and winning a knockout game in the Euros for only the second time to reach the quarter-finals.
England are yet to concede a goal in the tournament, but, barring a late change of heart, manager Southgate wants to match up the Germans and play with a similar formation to the one his team beat Belgium with in October last year and reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup with.
That means Harry Maguire will keep his place and line up on the left of a back three, with John Stones in the middle and Kyle Walker on the right. Kieran Trippier, who should give England greater threat from set-pieces, and Luke Shaw are in line to start in the wing-back positions.
But the change in formation, which Telegraph Sport reported was under consideration last Thursday, appears to be bad news for England fans’ favourite Jack Grealish. The Aston Villa captain is the most obvious fall-guy with Raheem Sterling keeping his place on the left and Phil Foden hoping to take Bukayo Saka’s place on the right.
Grealish set up Sterling’s winner against Czech Republic, but he is likely to have to try to make an impact from the substitutes’ bench against Germany, while Mason Mount has been in isolation with Ben Chilwell since last week. The pair have been training on their own and travelled down to London on their own on Monday night before their isolation period was due to end at midnight.
Grealish’s touches v Czech Republic
With England only scoring two goals in the group stages, Southgate has faced accusations of negativity which may be directed at him again with England set to line up with a back three – particularly after this week insisting he wants his team to “create a lot more chances.”
But Southgate would not see such a move as being negative as the hope is that the wing-backs can give England a real attacking threat and that it will help to create space for Harry Kane, Sterling and Foden.
Walker’s pace in the middle could be a valuable weapon against the pace of Serge Gnabry and Germany’s threat through left wing-back Robin Gosens, who has been one of their best players in the tournament so far.
Germany famously knocked England out of the World Cup in 1990 and the European Championships in 1996, when Southgate missed the decisive penalty in a shootout.
Southgate described those heartbreaks as being “irrelevant” to the current squad, but conceded that a knockout game against Germany at Wembley presents the players with a chance to enter the England history books.
“These sorts of landmarks are always opportunities,” said Southgate. “They have got an opportunity to go beyond where some incredible players and fantastic servants of England have gone before. And that is always an opportunity to be grasped.
“Every time you play for England you have an opportunity to score a goal or create a moment that lives with people forever. That is to be cherished, really. That is what presents itself.
“We are in a tournament to get ourselves to a quarter-final and I was not really that aware of our record. I knew our European Championship record did not stack up against the Czech Republic and Denmark and teams like that, but I had not realised that Spain was the only knockout win.
“But this what these lads have got, this chance to put another marker down and I have always been very firm with them they should not worry about what has gone before. I made that point explicitly to them this week.”
England are well prepared for the visit of Germany
On the opportunity to bury any of his own ghosts, Southgate added: “I can’t win this game. It will be the players who win it. It’s important that the focus is on them. The opportunity is theirs.
“What happened to me has helped in many different areas of my life, but it’s of no importance to this group of players and really every time you play an opponent it’s about two sets of players on any given day. It’s about how well they prepared and how well they perform.
“There are always records in the Premier League of teams who haven’t won at certain grounds for 30 years, but at some point that record gets broken. All those barriers are there to be knocked down in life and that’s the mentality we have got to have.”
Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham has said that Southgate will be offered a new contract past the 2022 World Cup, regardless of the result against Germany.
“Any manager is going to be grateful for the total backing of the board and the chief executive, so from my perspective that’s obviously, I know that’s a private conversation that I’ve had that support,” said Southgate.
“In the end internal backing is important, but in this role in particular external backing is just as important. I always think that to discuss contracts around tournaments in the past hasn’t been the right thing and we were certain we weren’t going to do that before this tournament. We should see how this goes so all of my focus is on the game and getting this team as far as we possibly can.”
England vs Germany tactical dossier: How Gareth Southgate’s team can win at Wembley
By Jason Burt
Gareth Southgate’s team selection will be under intense scrutiny as he tries to guide England to their first tournament victory over Germany since 1966.
Should England throw caution to the wind and try to overwhelm their rivals with attacking talent or look to keep things tight and negate Germany’s strengths.
Jason Burt analyses the tactical battle and the key areas where England can gain an advantage at Wembley.
The Belgium blueprint
England’s victory over the number one ranked nation, Belgium, in October 2020 was built on playing a back-three. It was also their first win over an opponent leading the Fifa seedings since 2011. In the Nations League win England were not at their best but it proved effective. Gareth Southgate has not forgotten this.
The manager has made no secret of the fact that he has been trying out different formations and is willing to adapt during this tournament and so for the challenge of Germany he has finally decided to go to a back-three, albeit tweaking the approach that took England to the World Cup semi-finals. Instead of 5-3-2 it will look more like 3-4-3.
In doing so Southgate is matching up against the Germans. It is a big call. If it does not work it leaves him open to the accusation of being more worried about the opposition than imposing his system on them. He will come in for criticism for being too pragmatic and conservative.
But Southgate is clearly attempting to negate Germany’s attacking threat which have been through their wing-backs – Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens. Germany have delivered 49 crosses so far, compared to England’s 17. If England stop them then they can stop Germany and deploying Kyle Walker on the right of the three – where he can deal with Serge Gnabry – also makes sense.
England v Germany – The Belgium blueprint
Unleash Raheem Sterling
The forward can be England’s key player. He already has two goals and is brimming with confidence. If it is Phil Foden on the right it would be tough on Bukayo Saka to be left out and it also means even more of the onus on running at the German defence, and running in behind them, falls on Sterling. Foden is quick but not lightning quick.
Sterling’s pace will frighten the German back-three and he is crucial to also getting the best out of Harry Kane who wants to drop in and pick out forward runners. Germany play a high defensive line and that does not suit 32-year-old Mats Hummels in particular who is already in a system that he does not feel comfortable in – and he has never been the quickest. Germany want to push up and squeeze the play. But we saw the problems that Kylian Mbappe caused their defence in France’s win and Sterling can have a similar effect.
Mbappe touches v Germany
If England match up their attacking front three against Germany’s defence then it could be the clincher. Germany are undoubtedly vulnerable at the back – conceding five goals from the 20 shots they have faced so far. At the same time Sterling is also smart enough to tuck in when needed and get closer to Kane to help him out.
Be better at set-pieces
This has been a real conundrum for England. Jose Mourinho may have a vindictive opinion of Luke Shaw but no-one could argue that the left-back’s set-piece delivery has been good enough. Given how strong England have been at corners and free-kicks under Gareth Southgate their struggles in this tournament have been a frustration and could prove costly.
So it looks like Southgate has decided to turn to both Kieran Trippier and Phil Foden. At least one of them has to play. Trippier is the best deliverer available in the squad – and set-pieces were better against Croatia when he played – so he appears set to return at wing-back, either on the right or possibly on the left (although that makes slightly less sense).
Foden was left out for the Czech game – because he was on a yellow card – and it was noticeable how poor England’s delivery was. They must improve in this area especially against better opponents. In the last World Cup nine of their 12 goals came from set-pieces and Trippier was heavily involved. “Our delivery hasn’t been good,” Southgate has admitted and he was always going to address this.
How England’s set piece output is far decreased
Combat the German midfield
Or, in other words, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice need to be the disruptors. There will be a clamour for England to try and dominate possession but this will be hard against Germany who have kept the ball better than any other team in the tournament with a passing success rate greater than 90 per cent. It also may not be necessary.
Nevertheless England have to be disciplined and go man-for-man with Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan. At least from the start it appears that Gareth Southgate has resisted the temptation to bring back Jordan Henderson and he has looked at how effective the pairing of Phillips and Rice were at stopping Croatia’s much-vaunted midfield.
Germans lead the way in pass accuracy
If England can stay patient they can capitalise. Germany will want to play in England’s half which will make them more vulnerable to the counter-attack. England need to use the ball more effectively and quicker than they have done in previous games – but also to keep it when the moment demands. Otherwise they will tire if they have to keep chasing the ball and if Kroos dictates the tempo. England cannot allow that to happen.
This could be a big area where England can really score – quite literally. Gareth Southgate has decided not to start with all of his flair players but with five substitutes available he can afford to be bold with his changes if needed. Few nations will be able to call upon the talent he will have on the bench and, for example, if Raheem Sterling tires he has the pace of Marcus Rashford or Jadon Sancho to turn to. He also has a game-breaker such as Jack Grealish who can play in a number of positions or the energy and discipline of Mason Mount. Then there is the directness of Bukayo Saka who would be desperately unlike not to start.
Of course Southgate has got to get the balance right but this could even be a 120-minute game – with extra-time – and not just 90 minutes. He has plenty in reserve to hurt Germany and also options to change up England’s formation. Rarely will they have gone into a knock-out tie with such firepower available. Southgate just has to get those changes right.