Maintaining width is the key to England progressing past Switzerland | Karen Carney

There are three simple ways of playing football: through, over and around. When one of those approaches is not working, it is upon a team to try one of the other two. Doing the same thing again and again in those circumstances is not advantageous because it becomes increasingly easy to defend against. England have found this out and it now looks as if they are going to change.

It has been clear throughout the European Championship that England have had issues with balance. The combination of Kieran Trippier and Phil Foden has not produced what Gareth Southgate might have hoped from an attacking perspective and a change of formation appears to be afoot. It looks likely Southgate will switch to a back three for the ­quarter-final against Switzerland on Saturday.

After the dramatic victory over Slovakia and almost a week without a game, England should be more confident and refreshed, and a new formation is a further boost. If they want to reach the semi-finals they have to be braver and change how they utilise personnel because being conservative has held England back.

I mentioned in my column two weeks ago that switching to wing-backs could be helpful. Bukayo Saka at left wing-back and Trippier or Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right could provide much-needed width. Trippier is a vastly experienced defender but on the left he has struggled going forward. I understand why he has been at left-back but because he is right-footed his tendency is to come back inside. He’s not going to take a touch forward positively with his left foot or run into spaces high up the pitch, and that means England lose momentum on that side. Having a more natural balance would be advantageous.

It looks like Ezri Konsa will replace the suspended Marc Guéhi on the left of the central defence, with John Stones in the middle and Kyle Walker on the right. Konsa has a good relationship with Saka because the two often do extra training together – the Arsenal man knows Konsa is a great one-v-one defender – and that understanding would help the partnership on that side. It also means Saka can concentrate on attacking, knowing he has a good one-v-one defender behind him.

Ezri Konsa

The issue with Trippier at left-back is that when he takes a touch infield he goes back into the bodies. England have a lot of players in that area and opponents will as well because they want to defend deep and be hard to break down. It means the cycle has to start again and attacks stagnate. Saka, on the other hand, would be able to keep attacks moving at pace and take the team up the pitch.

When England could not find a way through Slovakia they needed to play wider and go around them. The two goals came from a long throw-in and a corner, showing they are dangerous from wide positions, something they can replicate in open play if they have players operating in the right spaces. All of England’s goals thus far have arrived from wide areas.

The space for Foden and Jude Bellingham to work in against Slovakia was in the No 10 positions but their opponents did a great job of blocking the corridor, meaning England needed to consider something different. Foden and Bellingham are yet to click playing behind the striker, so it will be interesting to see whether an adjustment to the system would benefit them. It has become quite easy for teams to mark England players out of the game and a formation change would give Switzerland more to think about.

Harry Kane does not possess the pace to make going over the top a legitimate strategy and those behind him would have too much ground to make up to run beyond him because of the way England are set up. It means width is the way to go.

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Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham and others will thrive if England can generate a consistent wide threat. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Southgate says it is not about where Foden starts but where he ends up but if there is little room to operate in and he does not receive the ball, it does not matter where he is. I have seen him making really good runs without the ball, trying to get into the game, but England are not using him to his potential.

The theory of having Foden and Bellingham in those little central spaces is sensible. It is what Foden is used to at City but there he has got width from Jérémy Doku or Jack Grealish, who hug the touchline, and Bellingham has got Vinícius Júnior at Real Madrid. Those players make the opposition worry about them and that gives Foden and Bellingham more space. No one in Germany is worried about Trippier because they know he will not overlap and provide a great left-foot cross, meaning England are unable to stretch defences and create pockets to work in, but Saka on the left could change that.

I wonder whether Southgate is plotting a change because he wants to match Murat Yakin’s plan or whether he thinks it is best for England. I assume the truth is somewhere in the middle. Switzerland have played with a back three and a box midfield in Germany and that means the middle of the pitch is likely to be clogged up again and England’s wide players will be even more important. Southgate will want to push Switzerland’s wing-backs towards their own goal but equally there could be space in behind to exploit.

England have had enough wake-up calls throughout this tournament. They have the quality to impose themselves and cannot afford to keep trying the same things when they are not working. Adapting to circumstances is an important trait for any successful team and this is the right time to change.

The Guardian

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