27th of June, 2016. The final whistle blows on the most embarrassing defeat the England national team have suffered. Fans look away in dismay as the Viking men who have defeated one of the most respected teams in the world wheel away towards their fans to celebrate with their customary ‘Thunder Clap’. England have been knocked out of the European Championships by a nation with a population the size of Coventry. Cue dismay all around, and the resignation of Roy Hodgson. His replacement, ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce, was dismissed after only 67 days, and his replacement, England Under-21 coach Gareth Southgate only had one previous managerial role, in the north-east with Middlesbrough. England are a National side in turmoil, and the only way can be up.
In the domestic league, the latest tactical sensation is that of Antonio Conte’s 343 formation, whose Chelsea side have gone 5 games unbeaten in the Premier League, with 5 consecutive clean sheets and a goal difference of 16-0. Mightily impressive for a back line with consisting of a full back, England’s third choice centre back and David Luiz.
So how has this tactical genius stopped the goals from pouring into Thibaut Courtois’ goal? There are two main reasons. The first is simply that there are more bodies in defence. Three central defenders against the usual one or two strikers they face in the Premier League is hardly a fair match up, and with Marcos Alonso, Nemanja Matic, N’Golo Kante and Victor Moses all tracking back to cover attacking runs, the opposition rarely gets a chance to outnumber the defensive unit. The second reason is that a back three gives the ball away far less than a back four, as one of the wide defenders will almost always be a spare man. This allows them to play along the back line, then for either Azpilicueta or David Luiz to distribute the ball to the wings or into the central midfield, where the more technical players can start to create chance in their own offense.
So how is this relevant to England’s plight? Because a 352 formation would suit England’s current crop of players almost perfectly. Say, for example, the back three lined up in a similar fashion to Chelsea’s. The right centre back would be someone who can take the ball out from the back, someone who can handle pressure. Sound familiar? That’s exactly how Pep Guardiola described John Stones last month, even comparing him to Legendary ball-playing centre back Ronald Koeman.
The Central defender is the Marshall of the back three, and this is a role perfectly suited to Gary Cahill. The Chelsea defender has had a resurgence this season following Conte’s switch to a back three, where he has been successfully playing on the left side of the the defence. This gives him the knowledge of how the system works, and enables him to direct his defensive teammates who are less experienced than he is.
The player on the left is a far more tricky affair, mostly due to the well publicised lack of a left sided centre back. However, the advantage of playing with a back three in the manner that Conte’s side line up as is that a defensive full back can quite easily fit into a wide left role. Step in Ryan Bertrand. The Southampton man played on the left side of a back three at the tail end of last season, and certainly impressed there. Alternatively, Cahill could move to the left of the line and Chris Smalling could come into the centre of defence.
Wing backs are much easier to decide upon, with Walker and Rose being the obvious choices, and with Cresswell, Bertrand, Trippier, Antonio and Clyne all suiting the role on their respective flanks, this is a position that Southgate would not need to worry about any time soon.
Again, the defensive Lynchpin is a no-brainer really. Eric Dier has established himself as a fantastic holding midfielder with experience as a centre back as well, making him perfect cover for when the outside defenders are sucked out too wide.
The second defensive midfielder needs to be more industrious and box to box, with a focus on defensive capabilities, which would be a role almost tailored to Jordan Henderson, which would allow him to take his captaincy when Wayne Rooney is out of the side.
The attacking trio is really up to personal preference and rotation. Personally I would consider the best option when everyone is fit based on current form to be Alli, Sturridge and Kane, but Walcott, Sterling, Lallana, Rooney, Lingard, Vardy and Rashford could all work in the system.
Now of course, this is a tactic that would be unfamiliar to most of the squad, but with Gary Cahill as the third captain, he can always help with organising the back three in training. Spurs and West ham have also dabbled with playing 3ATB this season, so the full backs should be plenty used to the system. The squad as a whole might take a while to adapt, but what better time than under an interim manager with nothing but friendlies and world cup qualifiers to go between now and the world cup is there to experiment.