While it might be counter-productive to rehearse too many formations, England need a Plan A and B to take to the World Cup. The final warm-up match before they depart for Russia, against Costa Rica on Thursday, is their last chance to hone it.
I’d be very comfortable if manager Gareth Southgate fielded the same XI in the same 3-1-4-2 formation at Elland Road as he did from the start against Nigeria on Saturday. England were excellent in the first half of the 2-1 win at Wembley.
It’s a positive tactic and that’s how they should approach at least their first two World Cup games, against Tunisia and Panama, and perhaps the third, against Belgium, too. England have good players and some confidence, so there is no point being too defensive.
Southgate deserves credit for the way he has deployed Kyle Walker. Walker can make mistakes when at right-back, where he doesn’t have someone talking to him. The manager recognised that and has had success using Walker in central defence.
Furthermore, as part of the back three, Walker has licence to step out past the opposition forward. This gives John Stones a passing option and England another man in midfield. It is a small risk, but England have to be prepared to take them if they are to beat the best teams.
England’s strengths include their athleticism and awareness of space, as illustrated by their second goal against Nigeria. Harry Kane scored, but he had the time to shoot because of the runs made around him by Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli.
In the second half, though, Nigeria reshuffled their formation and got on top. England looked like they ran out of gas and, at times, panicked. Southgate has to know when to change his tactics, and that’s something else he can try to perfect against Costa Rica.
He needs a more regimented Plan B that can snuff out the opposition’s momentum, while still offering some threat. I think the players can cope with two systems, and a clear game-plan could really help this inexperienced side. Getting this second tactic right could make all the difference when trying to see games out at the World Cup.
I’d like to see Southgate switch to a 4-2-3-1 in this instance, with Walker or Kieran Trippier taken off and Jordan Henderson introduced in midfield alongside Eric Dier.
I’d prefer Dier to be the more adventurous of the pair: Henderson’s first instinct is to look for the pass out wide while Dier can penetrate through the middle. It was a pass from him to Kane that preceded his goal on Saturday.
Southgate seems to know all of his preferred starters. Ashley Young looks to have the edge on Danny Rose at left wing-back and I’d agree; while Rose has to get to the byline to cross, Young can deliver with his left or cut in with his right foot.
Although the result ultimately doesn’t matter, England should treat this match like a game at the World Cup. Beyond that, Southgate’s only concern will be that the squad he has settled on and prepared diligently comes through this last test physically unscathed.