Football Features

Six England questions Gareth Southgate will answer in the international break

By Ben Green

Published: 12:54, 19 March 2019

For the time being, domestic football will take a back seat while Gareth Southgate steps forward once again to lead England through the latest set of fixtures.

The Three Lions face both Czech Republic and Montenegro across the next week or so, giving the England manager ample opportunity to further investigate which system, players and set up suit his side best.

Such is the nature of international football, questions are waiting to be answered regarding all manner of things regarding Southgate’s side.

Here at Squawka, we’ve come up with six questions that Southgate will answer for us during the international break.

Q1: Who will cement their place as number one?

One of the first contentious decisions that Southgate will face is whether he sticks with Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as his number one choice between the sticks going forward.

The talented shot-stopper turned himself into a hero last summer, providing some assured and memorable performances as the Three Lions made the final four. His heroics in England’s penalty shoot-out win over Columbia will never be forgotten.

However, the 25-year-old has struggled for consistency this campaign, with the Toffees enduring yet another disappointing season. Pickford has made the most errors leading to goals (4) of all the goalkeepers in the Premier League this season. His error against Liverpool at Anfield this season won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

He has also conceded 42 goals in 31 Premier League outings, with his passion sometimes developing into moments of over-enthusiasm.

Despite these stats, Pickford is still considered a great goalkeeper. His stature within the England set-up is probably still strong enough for Southgate to utilise the former Sunderland man as his first choice. With an in-form Tom Heaton breathing down his neck, Pickford will have no choice but to convince Southgate that he is still the best man for the job.

Stoke City’s Jack Butland completes the goalkeeping trio called up for these two friendlies, but with Butland participating in Championship football this season – with his club struggling also – the race for the gloves is surely between Pickford and Heaton.

Q2: What formation will Gareth Southgate choose?

Going into the World Cup, Southgate made his approach fairly clear, opting to stick with three centre-backs covering in defence while two opposing wing-backs made their way up and down the pitch in support of both the attack and defence.

Since England’s exit from Russia last summer, the Three Lions have slowly morphed into a more traditional 4-3-3 with a more obvious centre-back pairing and more emphasis on two-thirds of the front three drifting wide to open up space for the likes of Harry Kane to work his magic.

Southgate saw success with his 4-3-3 formation, picking up key victories against both Spain and Croatia en-route to topping Nations League League A Group 4.

Now in preparation for England’s clash against the Netherlands in June, Southgate has a choice. Does he stick with the 4-3-3 formation that saw England sneak through as table-toppers in the Nations League, or does he revert back to a 5-3-2 system that saw the Three Lions do so well in Russia?

Southgate has a lot of factors to consider including strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, plus the England personnel available to him. It will be interesting to see which direction he chooses to go in.

Q3: How good is Declan Rice?

Mark Noble may look on with a touch of jealousy but Rice’s place among the England set-up has been on the cards ever since the youngster committed himself to the England cause.

Rice’s form for West Ham this season has been nothing short of both mature and advanced beyond his years, with his place in the Hammers starting line-up assured he is now a household favourite for those of an east London persuasion.

Eric Dier represents direct competition for a place in Southgate’s starting eleven this time around. Jordan Henderson has enjoyed a consistent and productive season aiding Liverpool’s title dreams but is absent with injury, whereas Dier has made just 16 Premier League appearances this season.

Whether Southgate opts to give Rice – who has played more and is in a rich vein of form – a chance to play from the off remains to be seen. Henderson and Dier played their part in Russia, but their omission would send a big message out to all those wishing to break into the England fold that reputation counts for nothing and recent form is what Southgate uses to dictate his selection.

Q4: What does Aaron Wan-Bissaka need to do to earn his place?

You must have seen all the statistics by now. Crystal Palace’s supreme full-back has built upon his emerging season last campaign and developed into one of the most exciting attacking defenders – not just for England – but throughout Europe.

‘AWB’ has made 27 appearances in the Premier League this season, with the 21-year-old forcing his way into the Palace set-up ahead of former first-choice right-back Joel Ward.

He has made the joint-highest tackles in the Premier League this season (109) and has already done enough to convince the vast majority of England supporters that he has the ability to fit in with Southgate’s squad.

The problem for Wan-Bissaka is England have a multitude of talented right-backs at present. Kyle Walker is flying with Manchester City, although depending on which formation Southgate opts for, he may be used more centrally. Trent Alexander-Arnold is another talented young right-back who is performing admirably at the top end of the table and in the Champions League.

Questions marks over Kieran Trippier’s form have been understandable, but the former Burnley man is still an effective option who also has the loyalty of Southgate courtesy of some superb displays in Russia.

With Walker and TAA must-haves in this squad, it may be down to continued ill-form for Trippier or injury that sees Palace’s latest prospect prosper for the Three Lions.

Q5: Ben Chilwell, Luke Shaw or Danny Rose?

On the other flank, Southgate has more thinking to do. The one rare problem in having so many options to choose from is which option to actually choose. Ashley Young was Southgate’s man at left-back at the World Cup but now it is time for a new man to make that position his own.

England haven’t had a regular left-back since the days of Ashley Cole, such is the array of talent at Southgate’s disposal. Of course, Southgate’s tactics may help determine which option he chooses to fill the void.

Reverting back to five at the back, Danny Rose may be the best option, blessed with more pace and an ability to affect the match along the entirety of the left side.

However, a 4-4-2 may suit Luke Shaw who has transformed into the defender people expected him to be, but has now pulled out with a minor injury.

Let’s not forget Ben Chilwell who, despite Leicester City’s average campaign, has bundles of ability. Like Shaw, he will improve under the guidance of a new manager in the form of Brendan Rodgers.

Expect at least two of the three to get a good run out for England across their two friendlies.

Q6: Does Dele Alli fit in?

On his day, Alli is still considered one of the most talented and intelligent players in the England squad.

His fantastic ability is occasionally overshadowed by misguided criticism. Some people seem to forget that the attacking midfielder is just 22. He already has 33 caps for England, including a World Cup campaign and a goal to boot.

He has also scored 53 goals in 172 games for Tottenham Hotspur, on average scoring every 3.24 games for a side constantly chasing a top-four place.

With Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard absent due to injury, Alli’s return to fitness has come at a perfect time for him to rubber stamp his presence in Southgate’s plans with a good set of performances over the next two 90 minutes.

Again, depending on the tactics deployed by Southgate, Alli may have to adapt his game to suit England’s system. If he is given a chance to do so, do not be surprised to see a solid performance from the youngster.