(written by Tom Cayless)
Ever since the generation of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes, the one position the English National Team have lacked is a creative midfielder. Even in the World Cup side of 2018, that made the semi-finals, England didn’t have an out and out creative player in the whole squad.
The likes of Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard starred in the tournament, however were still not true creative forces for Gareth Southgate’s side. But for this summer’s tournament the England boss has three true creators to pick from.
Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and James Maddison will, 100%, be representing The Three Lions this summer, unless they pick up an injury. The big dilemma and main talking point between English supporters in the lead up to the tournament this summer is how Southgate and his coaches can find a system that plays to these players’ advantages. Afterall, it is what England has been crying out for for a very long time.
To accommodate these creative outlets, the most effective formation for England to play would be a 4-3-3. Firstly, at the base of the middle three needs to be someone with immense defensive work and the ability to move the ball quickly in transition. Mainly, because the 5 players ahead of them will all be attack minded players. Declan Rice is perfect for this roll. He’s been instrumental in West Ham’s charge up the table this season and has to start for England this summer. This however, means Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson misses out. Nevertheless, this may not be as big of a miss as once thought. Due to Liverpool’s injury record he has had to play at the back this season, but because of this and Rice’s new found form, the West Ham man should play in the holding midfield.
The real question is which two of the three should play ahead of Rice. Often for Manchester City, Phil Foden has played in this position. However, he is mainly deployed out on the left wing, with fellow country man, Raheem Sterling through the middle or out to the right. For Aston Villa, Jack Grealish sometimes plays out wide, but also inside, too. Unlike Foden and in a sense Grealish, James Maddison tends to play inside. This season for Leicester, he has played 22 games, 20 in which he has played attacking midfield. He is the perfect fit for England’s right of a middle three.
So, Foden or Grealish in the team? Well, both. Phil Foden on the left wing and Jack Grealish on the left of the middle three. They both provide excellent thrust and a great goal threat for their clubs and this can, and in Foden’s case, be translated to their national team. This does mean two of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling miss out, but because of how good Phil Foden and Jack Grealish have become the risk is worth the potential award.
There are certainly worse problems for Southgate and the England management to have and if they were offered this predicament 12 months ago they would have undoubtedly taken it. Whatever they do people won’t be happy and if it doesn’t work people will ask why the other options weren’t used. But if Southgate gets it right, which he has done before, then he will give himself and his country the best chance to win an international tournament since Terry Venables’ side of 1996.