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    Find room for creative stars! Southgate must adopt a system that provides us with a cutting edge

    DANNY MURPHY: Gareth Southgate must find room for creative stars like Jack Grealish… England need FOUR forward-thinking players starting games

    • Fixture against Belgium should be used to as a test to build towards the Euros 
    •  It’s far more important that England focus on formation and contingency plans
    • Jack Grealish is pushing for a start after impressive performance against Ireland 
    •  Ben Chilwell’s game has ‘gone up a level’ since he joined Chelsea in the summer

    I don’t think Nations League success should be the priority from today’s trip to Belgium. For me, it’s far more important to use this chance to play top opposition as an important test in building towards Euro 2020

    In other words, don’t be obsessed with winning the game. It’s far more important to find our best formation and work on contingency plans. It’s probable Gareth Southgate will stick to the 3-4-3 that seems to be his preferred system. But I wouldn’t be disappointed if he changes to a more expansive 4-3-3 so that we can get extra attacking talent into the team. 

    The squad has it in abundance. While 3-4-3 does have advantages in being able to fit more than one of our world-class right-backs into the same line-up, I’ve felt frustrated by the lack of cutting edge it’s given us in recent games. If we play two full-backs as wingbacks and have Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice as the two central midfielders, we are relying on the front three as the players whose main job is hurting the opposition. 

    England head into Sunday’s game against Belgium on the back of beating Ireland 3-0

    It puts a large responsibility on them and I don’t think it’s helped that most Premier League clubs don’t play with wing-backs. In other games players like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Reece James haven’t played high enough up the pitch. If we persist only in 3-4-3 at the Euros with Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford as the choices up front, are we not restricting the impact that a Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Phil Foden or James Maddison might have? 

    I know Grealish or Mount is likely to play today with Rashford out with a shoulder injury but I’d ideally like to see four forward-thinking players on the pitch at the same time. And there is little point experimenting with a back four against moderate opposition, I’d like to see how we’d fare against a team like Belgium. Would we cause them more problems or would it give Kevin De Bruyne a field day? It’s a dilemma for Southgate because he has such quality in those positions. 

    Grealish is really pushing for a place because his form and numbers for end product are phenomenal. But to say he can only play wide on the left when Rashford is out seems a shame. Southgate is an intelligent coach and will have his reasons. With Covid-19 and players at different levels of fitness due to restricted training time, he may feel it is better to work on one system properly rather than chop and change. 

    But the England team I saw against Iceland and Denmark, and even beating Belgium at home, hasn’t benefited from three at the back. We lose a bit of creativity that three in midfield would give us. Mount, for example, has been sensational for Chelsea in a midfield trio where he can influence a game. Southgate put him as one of the two central midfielders against the Republic of Ireland but our opponents at Euro 2020 will be stronger and the obvious picks in a 3-4-3 will be Rice and Henderson, as will probably happen in Brussels today. 

    Jack Grealish is pushing for a start after an impressive performance against the Irish

    Jack Grealish is pushing for a start after an impressive performance against the Irish 

    Midfielder Mason Mount (right) provides a 'defensive awareness' as well as an attacking threat

    Midfielder Mason Mount (right) provides a ‘defensive awareness’ as well as an attacking threat 

    Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea usually play with a back four so I don’t think it will be hard for their players to play 4-3-3. When you face a team like Belgium who see a lot of the ball, you can end up with seven defensive-minded players on the pitch. At City, Foden has played more this season but wasn’t used against Liverpool last weekend. 

    Grealish has forced his way into the reckoning by playing so well and Mount gives you so much, including defensive awareness. I can see why Southgate would want a plan so that both Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker play at the Euros, but I’m not sure it’s worthwhile at the expense of selecting a Grealish or Mount.

    One boost for Southgate is having Ben Chilwell available for the Belgium game having missed a year of international football through injury and ill-advisedly attending a birthday party for Tammy Abraham in defiance of social distancing. For England’s wing-backs to work, they need the right personnel and having Chilwell rather than an out of-position Trippier on the left will make a huge difference to the balance of the team. 

    Chilwell has made an emphatic start to his career at Chelsea. I’d even say his game has gone up a level since Leicester, his chest is pumped out and looks so confident, creating and scoring goals. He’s also strong and hard to beat. He’ll improve the England team and enjoy the licence to get forward.


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