Ahead of the upcoming Euro Cup, Harry Maguire’s fitness is arguably the biggest cause of concern for England manager Gareth Southgate.
The United captain is currently on the sidelines due to an ankle injury he suffered in the league win over Aston Villa last month. United clearly felt his absence in the Europa League final. It appears that the Three Lions would have to suffer some consequences too.
Undoubtedly, Maguire is among the first names in Southgate’s starting eleven. His partnership with John Stones has enabled Southgate to play four at the back in recent games. However, the Three Lions manager has been forced to re-think his defensive strategy due to Maguire’s injury.
Change in formation?
Southgate has preferred a back-four in recent games, and this has helped him get the better out of his attacking options. But, in the absence of Maguire, he might be forced to go for a back-three.
Besides Maguire and Stones, Tyron Mings and Conor Coady are the only out-and-out center-backs in the English squad for the Euros. Both of them started in a back-four in the recent 1-0 friendly win over Austria. However, their performances only enforced the need of a back three.
Coady was suspect on a number of occasions while Mings almost gave away a penalty with a needless and blatant bodycheck in his box. Luckily for him, match officials missed the incident and there was no VAR available during the game. The Three Lions ended up winning the game with a clean sheet. But it could have been a totally different score line against a stronger opponent.
This begs the question – can Southgate trust either of them to partner Stones in a back-four in the opening game against Croatia on June 13th. Croatia are arguably England’s biggest challenger in Group D. One can expect Southgate to prefer the added security provided by a 3-4-3 formation over a 4-3-3.
In the back-three, one can expect Kyle Walker to slot in at the right side. One of Coady and Mings should occupy the remaining spot.
However, this formation severely handicaps the squad on the attacking front. Raheem Sterling might lose his starting spot as Southgate is likely to go either with Ben Chillwell or Luke Shaw in the left wing-back spot. Furthermore, more than one out of Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford would be starting the opening game on the bench.
Maguire has resumed running, but some reports have suggested that he could entirely miss out on the entire group-stage of the tournament. This scenario could be catastrophic for England’s chances in a group which is already challenging.
Southgate persisted with a back-four in the game against Austria. It would be interesting to see if he switches his formation in the friendly against Romania on Sunday. This is England’s last game before the tournament.