Gareth Southgate will not completely abandon England’s three-man defence at this World Cup, despite the opening-game thrashing of Iran.
England manager Southgate started the tournament with a flat back four and was rewarded with a superb attacking performance that saw his team score six goals.
Southgate is expected to start with a four-man defence again on Friday for England’s second game against the United States, but will not completely ditch the possibility of returning to a back three later in the tournament.
Kyle Walker is returning to fitness and Southgate will be hoping to get him some minutes as a substitute against the USA, which would then put him in contention to start a match.
Southgate has reiterated the need to be flexible and starting Walker later in the tournament would most likely be part of a return to a back three.
There was frustration on Southgate’s part that England conceded two goals against Iran and Walker’s pace in a three-man defence offers his team important protection against better sides.
England players were told ahead of the World Cup that the intention was to be flexible between a four-man and three-man defence, and Southgate intends to stick to that principle despite his tactics working out so well on Monday.
Kieran Trippier, who can play as a regular right-back or a right wing-back, has already proved how vital he is to England with his set-piece delivery, with Southgate’s team profiting from his corners in the victory over Iran.
On Tuesday, the Football Association said that central defender Harry Maguire had not suffered concussion against Iran and trained inside with the rest of the England players who started the first game.
Harry Kane, who required treatment on his ankle during the victory over Iran, worked inside along with Callum Wilson, who did not join England’s non-starters outside. It emerged on Tuesday night that Kane will have a scan.
James Maddison did not train outside with the group once again, making him an early doubt for the USA game, having already missed the Iran match through injury.
The big news coming from the England camp is that James Maddison and Callum Wilson both missed training... ❌
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Southgate and his staff were delighted with the impact of England’s substitutes against Iran and believe it will be an important aspect of the tournament moving forwards.
Substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish both scored, while Wilson assisted for Grealish with an unselfish pass that underlined the team spirit within the squad.
As well as needing to get Walker minutes, Southgate will be keen to offer Kalvin Phillips some match fitness off the bench. Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham both played the full 90 minutes, as well as 24 minutes of stoppage time against Iran.
Countries were warned ahead of the start of the World Cup that many matches would run over 100 minutes because of stoppages and to avoid teams trying to waste time.
That, together with the fact the World Cup is being played in the middle of the season, has further underlined the importance of countries making full use of their enlarged 26-man squads.
One source told Telegraph Sport: “It was a real bonus that Gareth was able to get five subs on to the pitch against Iran, because that’s exactly what he wants to do where possible.
“The substitutes are going to be more important than ever and the need to use the squad and rest players is going to be really evident. Gareth could not have been more pleased with the impact of the subs against Iran.
“The goal that Callum Willson put on a plate for Jack Grealish just summed up what this England squad is about. He could easily have shot and tried to score a World Cup goal, but he did what was right for the team.”
Southgate himself highlighted the importance of his substitutes, saying: “It was good to be able to refresh the forward line because there were some very close calls in who started in those positions. We have some fabulous talent and we had players that, if we needed them to change the game, they could do it.
“On days like that you would like to change more because every time you pick a team you have 11 that are happy and with the size of the squads now, 15 who could react differently. But I have to say the reaction when I named the team and when I was working with the team was excellent. They supported each other.”