Gareth Southgate says England need balance between attack and defence

Gareth Southgate has said England stand no chance of winning big matches and tournaments if they fail to find the right balance between defence and attack.

England’s manager, who faces demands to play on the front foot in Wednesday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Poland, wants his young side to be tactically astute at the European Championship. Undeterred by complaints about his pragmatic approach, Southgate spoke glowingly about the savviness of recent tournament winners and is considering reverting to a back three against Poland, who visit Wembley without the injured Robert Lewandowski.

“We have to find a balance,” he said. “We have a lot of exciting and creative players and we have to allow them to be as much as a threat as we can. We have to give the opposition things to worry about. But absolutely if we don’t defend well as a team then we won’t win big matches.

“We have to strike that balance. I am always conscious of that. Terry Venables was very big on that. What’s the balance of attacking and defensive players? He had some who could do both in certain situations really well. That’s what we are striving for.

“We are learning more about the younger players all the time. Will they flourish in certain situations? The development of some of them is rapid because of their age and the exposure they are getting this season. We have to make the best decisions we can.”

England used a 4-3-3 system when they opened their qualifying campaign with wins over San Marino and Albania. However, Southgate wants to be flexible. He praised France, who won the 2018 World Cup with a solid side, and Portugal, who were defensive when they won Euro 2016.

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“When I’ve watched the French and Portuguese, teams that have won, they are savvy and experienced,” Southgate said. “That’s something we have to add to this group. There’s a lot of young players in this group. We’ve got to help them learn how to win big matches.”

Declan Rice, who is expected to start in midfield again, acknowledged that Wednesday’s game doubles as an audition for the Euros. “With there not being an international break in April and then obviously the two games in June which are warm-up games, it is the last chance to go out there and put on a performance,” the West Ham midfielder said. “No disrespect to San Marino and Albania but it will be a real step up.”


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