Tapping the best brains

England midfielder Dele Alli taking part in a darts competition in Repino, Russia, on Saturday. His on-field skills typify Gareth Southgate's young and dynamic group of players.
England midfielder Dele Alli taking part in a darts competition in Repino, Russia, on Saturday. His on-field skills typify Gareth Southgate's young and dynamic group of players.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Tactics employed by foreign coaches in EPL aid Southgate's search for winning formula

GROUP G

Tunisia v England

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REPINO • The Premier League has long been a scapegoat for England's below-par performances at major tournaments, but manager Gareth Southgate says he has benefited from close study of the tactics used by its foreign coaches.

England start their World Cup Group G campaign against Tunisia today with a formation Southgate believes will play to their strengths of pace and attacking flair.

"We've got some of the best coaches in the world working in our league so there are some fascinating ideas," Southgate told the Football Association's website.

"The more you watch a team, the more you start to see familiar patterns of play and how they build up. The season has been a great contrast of styles and philosophies."

Much has been made of the impact of Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola on players like Kyle Walker, John Stones and Raheem Sterling, but Southgate's system owes more to the approach of Italian Antonio Conte at Chelsea.

The London club won the Premier League in 2017 playing with three central defenders and two advanced wing-backs - a central striker and a floating winger/support forward in Eden Hazard.

SEEKING THE WINNING FORMULA

Essentially, you're trying to get your best players on the field in a formation that allows them to play at their very best and allows you to win matches.

GARETH SOUTHGATE, England manager, drilling home the basic challenge for a manager.

That is essentially the formula Southgate is expected to use in the World Cup with Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young likely to occupy the wing-back positions which Conte used to good effect with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso.

While Guardiola and Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp also make use of attacking full-backs, they do so as part of more traditional back fours whereas Southgate is adopting Conte's preference for three central defenders.

That requires a different kind of centre-half, capable of covering the wider areas during a counter-attack - hence the use of Walker on the right and probably Harry Maguire on the left.

But, while Conte often used two holding midfielders in N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic, Southgate is expected to go with one in the form of Jordan Henderson.

Sterling is likely to be given the "Hazard role" in support of striker Harry Kane with Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli providing attacking support from midfield.

Southgate, who coached England's Under-21 team, has tried different systems, but said the common factor is a desire to get the most quality on the pitch.

"Predominantly, when I started with the U-21s, it was 4-2-3-1 for a spell. Then in order to get our best players on the pitch, we played with a diamond for an 18-month period when we won the Toulon tournament. Now we've moved to three at the back with the seniors," he said.

"Essentially, you're trying to get your best players on the field in a formation that allows them to play at their very best and allows you to win matches."

It is a system that makes England well suited to counter-attacking in high-tempo matches.

But perhaps it makes Southgate's side better suited to facing stronger sides than less ambitious opponents who will look to defend in numbers and slow games down.

Southgate has a young and dynamic group of players, but English footballers have rarely looked comfortable in slow, possession-based games. The first two opponents in Group G, Tunisia and Panama, will likely try to limit the opportunities for breaks, reduce space and slow down the tempo.

The first major test for Southgate's philosophy will then be whether his team can impose their desire for an open, attacking contest on their opponents today.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Tapping the best brains'. Print Edition | Subscribe