Gareth Southgate is not afraid to shake up misfiring attack against Wales

Phil Foden and Jack Grealish - Gareth Southgate is not afraid to shake up misfiring attack against Wales - Matthew Ashton/Getty Images
Phil Foden and Jack Grealish - Gareth Southgate is not afraid to shake up misfiring attack against Wales - Matthew Ashton/Getty Images

Gareth Southgate may not be a manager with a long history of transforming big matches with his substitutions, but he has shown before that he is not afraid to make changes between games.

As England prepare to face Wales in their final group match of this World Cup, their recent history suggests the manager will be more than happy to tweak and tinker – especially with his forwards.

At this stage of last year’s European Championship, England were in a similar position. They had won their opening match against Croatia but struggled to find their attacking fluency in the second game, a goalless draw with Scotland. England were similarly unimaginative in their second match of this tournament, Friday’s dull draw with the United States.

On the evidence of last year, it would therefore be no surprise if Southgate freshened up his front line with some different faces against Wales.

Last summer, he changed half of his front four in the third game, with Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish coming into the side. Those switches worked, as Saka and Grealish combined to assist Raheem Sterling’s winning goal against the Czech Republic.

Grealish will again be a candidate to come into the starting line-up, having been a substitute in both of England’s matches in Qatar.

Many England supporters are also hoping there will be space for Phil Foden, an unused substitute against the USA. The struggles of Sterling and Saka against the Americans makes them obvious candidates to drop out. The same is true of Mason Mount, who faded in and out of Friday’s draw.

As the years have passed for Southgate, he seems to have become more willing to make these changes between matches, to come up with different game plans for different opponents. His team were far more settled earlier in his tenure, as can be seen from his selection choices at the 2018 World Cup.

Aside from the third game of that tournament, when England had already reached the knockout stages, and the third-place play-off against Belgium, Southgate largely stuck with a trusted set of regulars.

The same 10 players – Jordan Pickford, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Sterling and Harry Kane – started England’s other five games of the 2018 tournament.

Of the settled line-up, only Dele Alli (replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek for the second match) did not play in all five of those matches.

John Stones - Expect Southgate to tinker with England's attack for clash with Wales - Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
John Stones - Expect Southgate to tinker with England's attack for clash with Wales - Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Southgate has grown to be more of a tinkerman in time, then, but that is largely with his forward players instead of his defenders.

At the back, there has been less meddling. Stones has started every tournament match of Southgate’s reign, while Harry Maguire is always picked when fit. Until now, that has also been true of Kyle Walker (who is still returning to full fitness).

We should therefore expect his defence to remain settled, but do not be surprised if he transforms the feel of his attack.