Tribal Football

The Regista: Gordon, Trent & Southgate courage - breaking down England's tactical issues

The Regista: Gordon, Trent & Southgate courage - breaking down England's tactical issues
The Regista: Gordon, Trent & Southgate courage - breaking down England's tactical issues
The Regista: Gordon, Trent & Southgate courage - breaking down England's tactical issuesAction Sports's tactics expert Connor Holden runs his eye over England's Euros campaign thus far and says coach Gareth Southgate must be braver in his decision-making if the team is to fulfill it's potential...

After some extremely flat performances from Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions, England still managed to top Group C, and secure their place in the knockout stages. 


England faced Slovakia in the round of 16, who managed to beat Belgium in their opening group fixture 1-0. And again, England made hard work of this tie, leaving it until the dying minutes of normal time to find a 1-1 equaliser to take the match to extra time.

Southgate’s men eventually scraped through, finding a winner early in extra time through substitute Ivan Toney heading it onto Harry Kane to score the winner.

But what does Southgate have to change to spark some life into his side, strike the right balance and massively improve England’s performances to stand a chance of progressing further in this tournament?

Let's take a look…



The common theme for in possession play so far, is a tentative version of the 3-2-5. The reason I describe it as “tentative” is due to the role of Kieran Trippier, and the depth he operates at.

Trippier’s job is to provide width on that left side, enabling Phil Foden to drift inside and become a secondary number 10 alongside Jude Bellingham, making them the receivers between the lines.

However Southgate is known to be a pragmatic coach, and you can see how this rubs off on each player within the system. Trippier is often very wary of when to provide width, and how much he wants to commit in those areas. This leads to a lack of “sacrificial runs” where he drags players away with him to open space up for the creative 10s.

Instead we have seen a passive version where Trippier holds width but doesn't provide the same depth and runs beyond as a natural left winger/wingback, which has affected the balance of the team.


Passive version
Passive versionTribalfootball


In the last game of the group stage, we saw more of a 3-1-6 build up shape, adding Conor Gallagher higher up in that right half space, and taking Trent Alexander-Arnold out of the side to leave Declan Rice as a single pivot.

This has its own issues, as you lose a lot of your central progression from deep, with a lack of risk takers behind the ball to split the lines and find one of the number 10s in the receiver zones.



The biggest issue England have faced this tournament is their lack of pressing intensity, often being walked back into a block inside their own half, ceding territory.


Getting pushed back
Getting pushed backTribalfootball


This image shows how deep England get pushed back, rather than going in a man to man pressing fashion, there is no-one to put pressure on the ball, and the pivot is extremely deep.

When you have the talent Southgate has at his disposal, it is causing outrage amongst fans as he allows teams to take control of games, rather than controlling the game themselves, via a high press to regain possession.


Passive pivot
Passive pivotTribalfootball


This image shows the passive nature of the pivot (two number 6’s) whilst the narrow front four put little/no pressure on the ball.

Often allows teams to walk England backwards, find one pass either out wide or between the lines and attack that back six (back four and double pivot).




Finding a fix
Finding a fixTribalfootball


The main fixes all come down to adding balancing profiles throughout the squad. Southgate tried to address one concern by bringing Kobbie Mainoo into the starting XI against Slovakia, giving a more progressive passer and carrier in the middle of the park.

However the lack of balance in other areas, including runners off the ball, and natural width still stopped the side functioning to a higher level.

Against Slovakia, Saka often drifted inside to get on the ball, and wasn't always offering maximum width on that right side. There is the same issue on the left, although Trippier tries to occupy that left flank high and wide, he doesn't make enough sacrificial runs and doesn't offer the same threat as a natural left footed fullback on that side, who can get to the byline and deliver.

This has a knock on effect, often leaving little space for the number 10’s to combine, and this is further tightened by the tendency of Harry Kane to drop deep into these zones too.

By adding a direct runner out wide it would fix both issues, creating space for others with sacrificial runs away from play and in behind the opposition defences, whilst also adding natural and sustained width.

Anthony Gordon is the perfect player to add this for Southgate’s side.



The last thing I wanted to mention was the lack of bravery with substitutions.

Against Slovakia, Southgate only made ONE change in the first 84 minutes of the game, bringing Cole Palmer on for  Trippier.

Now it's important to mention, this change in isolation is a “brave” change, sending Saka to left back and bringing on an attacker for a defender. However when chasing a goal, to keep the dynamics almost exactly the same, and not make further adjustments seemed incredibly naive.

The likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold (one of the best deep creators in the world), and Anthony Gordon (natural width holder and direct runner) were unused substitutes, whilst Eberechi Eze came on with less than 10 minutes to go, and Toney entered the game with only 2 minutes left on the clock.

If Southgate is going to persist to start with his preferred eleven, the absolute minimum requirement is to be more proactive and brave with his substitutions when things aren't working.