What England must get right on and off the pitch to beat Tunisia

Alex Scott
The Telegraph
England's Harry Maguire, Gary Cahill, Eric Dier and Kieran Trippier prepare for the Tunisia match in St Petersburg before flying to Volgograd on Sunday - AFP
England's Harry Maguire, Gary Cahill, Eric Dier and Kieran Trippier prepare for the Tunisia match in St Petersburg before flying to Volgograd on Sunday - AFP

1. Wing-backs must get the balance right

Gareth Southgate has gone for a bold, attacking 3-5-2 formation that makes virtue of his squad’s two obvious strengths - their athleticism and an overload of creative midfield players. It allows England to play all three of Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard, but it is a system which demands a huge amount of the wing-backs.

I played right wing-back at Arsenal, and tactically it is incredibly difficult to get right. By overloading the centre of the pitch your wing-backs have to cover an entire flank almost on their own, and knowing when to press or sit back is vital. If you get it wrong it’s horrible - your stomach sinks when you’re caught too far upfield, turn around and realise your opposite number is attacking the space you’ve left behind and you’ve got a 60-yard sprint to get back.

But if you sit too deep you risk making the back-three into a back-five, and turning what could be an aggressive system into a passive one. Get it right, though, and you can win the midfield battle by pressing high and then, when you get the ball, having an overload of players to create little passing triangles that gives your attackers time and space to create.

It looks like Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young will be the wing-backs and they will come off the pitch absolutely exhausted. But if they get the balance right England will thrive.

2. Have fun and be open - but know when it’s time to knuckle down

I spent a fair bit of time around St George’s Park in the build-up to the tournament and the atmosphere was fantastic. It is more open than it seems to have been in the past, and it was obvious the players enjoy being there.

Carragher on Southgate
Carragher on Southgate

That sense of fun is vital. Being away with a national side at a tournament can be hard - you train, go back to your hotel and often you sit in your room, watching TV or speaking to people at home. If there’s no communal area it can feel like being in prison, staring at the same four walls all the time.

It feels different this time, and Southgate deserves a lot of credit for that. It reminds me of how the atmosphere changed in my last couple of years with England Women. We tried new things - I remember we had to sing songs from Les Miserables in one team-bonding session - and it brought us much closer together. That seems to be the case with the men this time around and that’s a real positive. They just need to know when to switch from openness to a real sense that it’s time to go to work. I am certain they will.

3. Southgate must be honest with his players

The only slight hint of dissent has been from Kyle Walker, who said he would rather be playing right-back than in the back three. I completely understand where Walker is coming from because I had the exact same conversation with Hope Powell.

I wanted to be the best right-back in the world, but I was being asked to fill in wherever I was needed. Of course, I would do anything for the team - which Walker has also said - but I wanted to prove myself and didn’t feel I was fully able to do so.

<span>Kyle Walker, left, has understandably said he would rather play at right-back</span> <span>Credit: Alex Morton/Getty Images </span>
Kyle Walker, left, has understandably said he would rather play at right-back Credit: Alex Morton/Getty Images

Hope understood my concerns but said that the team came first and she needed me elsewhere. When your manager says that you have no choice but to accept it. Kyle may be playing out of position - but at least he is playing! Keeping everyone happy and involved is so vital at a tournament like this.

4. Get the music right in the dressing room

They may not have settled on one yet but by the end of the World Cup England will have a team song, and it will help unify them as a group. I was in charge of the music in every team I played for and that is a huge responsibility, believe me!

You have to get the balance right, especially on matchday. But the last song before you go out is key - it needs to set the mood and put a smile on everyone’s face.

Often it’s not the type of song you might expect, either. During the 2012 Olympics I decided to put on some cheesy pop because I knew Ellen White liked it. The first song was ‘Reach for the Stars’ by S Club 7 and before I knew it everyone was singing it - suddenly it was our song. Something similar happened at the 2015 World Cup when ‘Tragedy’ by Steps became the England team’s anthem. You would be out on the pitch and someone would be humming it, I promise you.

Whoever is in charge of the music on Monday evening - good luck, and don’t get the last song wrong!

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