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 the league’s foreign coaches.
England start their World Cup campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday with a formation Southgate believes will play to their strengths.
"We’ve got some of the best coaches working in our league so there are some fascinating ideas," Southgate said. "The season has been a great contrast of styles and philosophies."
Much has been made of the impact of Manchester City’s Spanish coach, Pep Guardiola, on players like Kyle Walker, John Stones and Raheem Sterling, but Southgate’s system owes more to the approach of Italian coach Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
The London club won the league in 2017 playing with three central defenders, two advanced wingbacks, a central striker and a floating winger/ striker in Eden Hazard.
That is essentially the formula Southgate is expected to use in the World Cup, with Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young likely to occupy the wingback positions, which Conte used to such good effect with Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso.
While Guardiola and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp also make use of attacking fullbacks, 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 centrehalf capable of covering the wider areas, hence the use of Walker on the right and probably Harry Maguire on the left.
Whereas Conte used two holding midfielders in N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic, Southgate is expected to go with one in 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 says the common factor is a desire to get the most quality on the pitch.
"Predominantly, when I started with the Under-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. Essentially, you’re trying to get your best players on the field in a formation that allows them to play at their very best," he said.
It is a system that makes England well suited to counter-attacking and playing in high-tempo matches.
But perhaps it makes Southgate’s young and dynamic side better suited to facing stronger sides than less ambitious opponents who will look to defend in numbers and slow games down.