Conor Coady impressed and Kalvin Phillips showed glimpses of promise as Gareth Southgate handed out FOUR debuts… England served up a damp squib against Denmark but they should try the 3-4-3 system again
- Connor Coady and Kalvin Phillips made their England debuts against Denmark
- Gareth Southgate switched his formation to a 3-4-3 due to several absentees
- Wolves captain Coady was his usual vocal self and well adapted to the step up
- Phillips gave a good account of himself and showed he was ready for this level
Backwards, sideways. Right, left, right and back again. The system Gareth Southgate deployed to give England another string to their bow initially seemed to tie them up in knots.
England’s trip to Copenhagen had long been circled by Southgate as the perfect place to experiment, to go back to a formation that served his team so well in the 2018 World Cup. Every second must count for the head coach in the coming months, all avenues need to be explored.
Nothing says experimentation also like the sight of two debutants and Southgate hoped that playing three central defenders would see Conor Coady, the captain of Wolves, and Kalvin Phillips of Leeds come to the fore.
Connor Coady (L) and Kalvin Phillips (R) made their England debuts against Denmark
Coady started in a defensive three whilst Phillips partnered Declan Rice in midfield
Coady gave a passable impersonation of a competition winner at St George’s Park last week, such was his delight and disbelief at being called into the squad in place of Manchester United’s Harry Maguire, but he did himself a disservice.
His consistency and progress over the last two seasons meant his first call – and first cap – were richly deserved and, more than anyone, settled into the rhythm of this Nations League qualifier quickly, pinging a couple of 60-yard passes into the path of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The way Coady swept those balls forward gave early hope that England would be direct and dynamic and it would bring the qualities of so many of their jet-heeled forwards, not to mention the similarly rapid Alexander-Arnold, into play. If Coady was nervous, it never showed.
You could hear him barking and organising, being true to the promise he made seven days ago.
Coady settled quickly into international football and was his usual vocal self throughout
‘I’m here to help,’ said Coady, winning international honours for the first time since leading the Under-20s at the 2013 World Cup in Turkey. ‘I’m just immensely proud. It was an incredible feeling to see my name on the board. I don’t care about my own performance as long as I did OK.’
He was better than OK. Coady knew there were questions for him to answer but he went about his business in that honest way and was excellent. In front of him, however, it was all very tentative and you could see early anxieties from Kalvin Phillips, his fellow debutant.
It took six minutes for Phillips, the first player from Leeds to gain a senior England cap for 16 years, to get his first touch. The next time, he got a foot on the ball was in the 17th minute. By then, Denmark had managed to take control and England’s play had become devoid of charm.
Be clear no blame is being attached to Phillips. Southgate has followed his progress closely and had no concerns about calling him up; he doesn’t give out cheap appearances and Phillips, the 24-year-old who has yet to kick a ball in the Premier League, was here firmly on merit.
Phillips showed impressive glimpses in the game and showed he can play at international level
They call Phillips the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ at Elland Road for a reason. He plays on his own in midfield, in front of the defence, and knocks the ball around with élan. He is strong and in the helter-skelter surrounds of the Championship, he had the ability to play games at his own speed.
Doing it at international level, of course, is a different matter but it would be harsh in the extreme if Phillips isn’t given another opportunity to prove he can do it. He was substituted after 75 minutes, making way for another debutant in Jack Grealish – Ainsley Maitland-Niles also came on — and would have felt frustrated.
Phillips gave two glimpses of what he is about, early in the second half, with a wonderful first time passes out to Harry Kane and then Kieran Trippier but he found it difficult, not least as he was playing alongside Declan Rice, who was doing a similar job.
Rice (L) and Phillips (R) struggled to carve out any first half opportunities for the Three Lions
The ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ made way for fellow debutant Jack Grealish in the 75th minute
That was the dominant theme from the opening 45 minutes. Everything was tentative, the passing was safe to the point of slovenly and it led to those laborious passages were Eric Dier, a right-footed central defender playing on the left, kept feeling the need to go back to Jordan Pickford.
It would be too easy to say 3-4-3 didn’t work and Southgate should go back to 4-3-3 next month, when there are three games at Wembley against Wales, Belgium and Denmark, but wouldn’t that be giving up too easily?
Southgate knows 4-3-3 works for England, he probably knows what individuals will fit the positions, too, without needing to see them play in it again. But what he wants is challenge the group, to make them versatile and flexible, so they have the capacity to change in big games.
There’s was little wonderful, wonderful about Copenhagen but it was not a night to rip something up and forget about it. Think about who was missing and who could enliven it. When Southgate has a full complement of players, he should play this formation again.
Despite an underwhelming performance, Gareth Southgate should keep trying this new set up