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England Euro 2020 tactics preview: What we know about the team’s formation, flexibility and set-piece approach

England Euro 2020 tactics: Gareth Southgate
(Image credit: Getty Images)

How much do we know about the England Euro 2020 tactics? The warm-up friendlies against Austria and Romania may have been underwhelming, but they provided two wins for the Three Lions, and have given us some insight into how Gareth Southgate plans to set up.

With the addition of Ben White meaning that the England Euro 2020 squad is now finalised, here’s what FourFourTwo makes of the likely approach.

England Euro 2020 tactics: What formation will Southgate play? The flexibility on offer

With the second-youngest squad in the competition, it will be argued that England lack experience. 

The importance of the likes of John Stones, Kyle Walker, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Harry Maguire and hopefully Jordan Henderson cannot be underestimated. 

This isn’t a squad that lacks maturity or bravery, though. Of this season’s achievements alone among the squad there are: Champions League winners, one as young as 21; a Premier League winner aged 21; a 23-year-old Europa League finalist who already has over 40 caps; a 19-year-old who has been the shining light in Arsenal’s season; and two players who moved to Borussia Dortmund as teenagers where they have both flourished. 

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As well as fearlessness, exuberance, and enormous potential, this is a squad that has also has great flexibility in a tactical sense. 

Throughout qualifying, the Nations League, and friendlies Gareth Southgate has used various formations ranging from 3-4-2-1 to 4-2-3-1. 

Although there is some expectancy to see a 3-4-2-1 formation used in the opening game against Croatia, the recent friendlies against Austria and Romania respectively have indicated that a back four could be more likely. 

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How England could look playing a 3-4-2-1 (Image credit: Future)

This would make sense in terms of the balance of the squad as there is a depth of talent in the attacking midfield and wide forward areas. 

England have a world-class centre forward in Harry Kane, and playing 3-4-2-1 would mean that only two out of Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford would start in support of him. 

A 4-2-3-1 formation would allow three of these players to be selected in the starting XI and a 4-3-3 could even allow four of them to start ahead of a single defensive midfield player, rather than the double pivot. There needs to be a balance struck between maximising the attacking threat and ensuring that the defensive organisation is strong enough.

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How England could look playing a 4-2-3-1 (Image credit: Future)

Ultimately, the key to any success will be the principles of how England play, not necessarily the formation. 

A number of these players have great tactical intelligence and versatility. Kyle Walker can play right-sided centre back, right back, or right wing-back as can Reece James. Kieran Trippier is comfortable playing on the right or the left. Phil Foden has played as a central midfield player, a wide forward, and as a false nine this season. Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka, Ben White, and Raheem Sterling have similar versatility in their own roles. 

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How England could look playing a 4-3-3 (Image credit: Future)

The principles of progressive possession – essentially, aiming to have a lot of the ball among attacking players – and good defensive organisation will obviously be vital. 

Two other principles that have been evident in England’s best performances are the ability to press high to regain possession, especially when counter-pressing, and the speed and quality of play to counter-attack quickly upon gaining possession. The attacking options within the squad can pose problems to any team in the competition on transitions. If England get their pressing triggers right within games and can regain possession in dangerous areas of the pitch these could present very realistic opportunities to score and could be the deciding factor within games. 

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England Euro 2020 tactics: How will Gareth Southgate approach set pieces?

A huge positive from England’s World Cup displays were the effectiveness of the set pieces. 

With the loss of Trent Alexander-Arnold England have lost a taker of the highest quality. This may come into Gareth Southgate’s thinking when he is selecting teams, and could well be a positive for Kieran Trippier who also has outstanding quality from dead-ball situations. 

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Set pieces could also be where the potential unavailability of Harry Maguire could be most felt as he is key at both ends of the pitch. In recent years he has been highly effective either attacking deliveries or acting as a decoy to create space for others. 

So England’s coaching staff may have to adapt. There were set-piece chances against Austria in Wednesday nights friendly, most notably via Jude Bellingham with a well-timed run from the edge of the area to attack a corner delivered to the penalty spot and then a disallowed goal when he flicked home from a subsequent corner. 

England also looked dangerous from their attacking set pieces against Romania, most notably through Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who provides both a great option to replace Kane at suitable times and also to play with him if England are chasing a game. Regularly this season he has shown the threat he poses both aerially and on the ground, and he has taken to international football very comfortably. 

A big consideration in terms of set pieces, predictably, is winning them in the first place. England have a whole host of players capable of receiving in tight areas, beating players, and winning fouls. 

None more so than Jack Grealish, who was the most fouled player in the Premier League this season despite missing a number of games through injury. In both friendlies over the past week he has drawn foul after foul, earning free kicks for his side, generating yellow cards for opposition players and winning a penalty in Sunday's game against Romania. 

When selecting his starting teams and also when considering the changes to make from the bench, Gareth and his staff will surely be giving almost as much consideration to set pieces as he will to the impact the changes will have on open play. 

If England can repeat the success they had from set pieces in the World Cup then the chances of success in these Euros will increase significantly.

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