England’s Creative Spark: Who Gets the Nod in Southgate’s 3-5-2?

England’s Creative Spark: Who Gets the Nod in Southgate’s 3-5-2?

With just one creative midfield position available this summer, who will line-up behind the front two in Gareth Southgate’s 3-5-2 formation in Russia?

After assembling a 23 man squad ahead of the World Cup in two weeks time, England boss Gareth Southgate now has just two more friendly games left to decide his chosen starting line-up and formation before the tournaments curtain raiser against Tunisia. Most fans are anticipating Southgate to opt for a ‘3-5-2’ formation this summer: he lined up his side like this in their previous friendly matches against the Netherlands and Italy back in March and it seemed to work well as the Three Lions avoided defeat in both games.

Jesse Lingard scored England’s winner in their 1-0 victory over Ronald Koeman’s Holland just under three months ago. Lingard has enjoyed a promising season with Manchester United this time around, cementing a place in Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up and chipping in with 13 goals and 7 assists in all competitions at Old Trafford. But will he start for England in Russia? Due to the formation Southgate looks more than likely to pick, only one creative midfield slot is available, with two holding players in the form of Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier predicted to be the chosen option for the England boss.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s untimely injury ruling him out for this summers competition, it looks as though it will be a direct battle between Jesse Lingard or Tottenham’s Dele Alli as in to who will support Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling up front. Both players have similarities, they’re both extremely creative and have the ability to supply that link between the midfield and attack whilst also contributing in the goalscoring department.

Since Dele Alli’s arrival at Spurs back in 2015, the young midfielder has established himself as one of the hottest prospects in the world. In his debut Premier League season two years ago he netted 10 goals and 9 assists in 33 appearances at just 19 years of age and last term enjoyed an outstanding campaign, scoring 23 goals whilst also assisting a further 13 in all competitions.

This time around things have been slightly different for Alli, he hasn’t scored as many goals as last season however has still put in some fantastic performances for Tottenham, with notable appearances against Chelsea in the league and Real Madrid in the Champions League reminding us all what an immense talent he is. The 22-year-old has still picked up 17 assists this season whilst also scoring 14 goals himself (all comps), so heads into this World Cup as one of England’s main creative threats.

With no out-and-out wingers used in this new-found 3-5-2 formation, Raheem Sterling could also be used as a more central creative midfielder should Southgate wish to deploy a second striker alongside Harry Kane. Marcus Rashford, Jamie Vardy or Danny Welbeck could be used to partner Kane in a more natural front two in games that possibly require a more direct approach, so should this happen then Sterling could find himself in a more deeper role in place of either Alli or Lingard.

The final option that Gareth Southgate has available to him is Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The 22-year-old was one of the surprise inclusions to the Three Lions squad but has more than earned himself a place on the plane to Russia after a solid season on loan at Crystal Palace. For the first time in his senior career, Loftus-Cheek has had a consistent run of games in the Premier League at Selhurst Park. He was also the standout performer when he made his debut for the national team in their 0-0 draw with Germany back in November, showing everyone just what a capable player he is at this level.

At 6 ft 3, Loftus-Cheek is everything you want from a central midfielder. He’s got strength in abundance, is confident on the ball and can break forward past opponents with ease, supporting the attack at every opportunity. It’s unlikely that Southgate will opt to start Loftus-Cheek due to his lack of experience on the international main stage, however there’s no doubting that he can still have a huge impact off the bench.

It would be great to see some risks taken this summer in Russia, is there really any need for both Dier and Henderson to be on the pitch at the same time, both doing the same mundane job in the middle? Sure, it’s vital to have one of those players in there at all times to shield the defence, but if one holding player was sacrificed so that both Alli and Lingard/Loftus-Cheek could be present on the pitch at the same time, there’s no questioning that we’d hold much more of a threat against the top sides and maybe, just maybe even reach the final for the first time in 52 years.

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