The last time England faced off with Wales, they came away with a 2-1 victory in one of the most dramatic games of Euro 2016. Tonight’s international friendly had far lower stakes, but the result remained the same.
Gareth Southgate’s England ran out 3-0 winners, with first international goals from Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Conor Coady, and Danny Ings being enough for the victory. The scoreline flattered England somewhat, as they were tidy, solid at the back, but struggled to create a lot of chances for the third match running.
Here are five talking points from England’s win over Wales.
#1 What is England’s best system going forward?
After largely using a 4-3-3 system in the matches that followed the 2018 World Cup, England began tonight’s game in a 3-4-3 formation for the second game running. And while Gareth Southgate’s side came away with a victory tonight, the game played out a lot like September’s 0-0 draw with Denmark.
Essentially, the use of 3-4-3 suggests that Southgate wants to piece together the best parts of the other two systems he’s used with England. One is the solid three-man defence seen in the 2018 World Cup, with the other being the ruthless attacking trident used in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League and Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Unfortunately, based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, the system just doesn’t work. Using 3-4-3, England have kept two clean sheets, but simply lack any kind of midfield creativity. And it’s hard to blame the personnel given tonight’s experimental side was completely different from the one that faced Denmark in Copenhagen.
Essentially, the system seems to cause a huge disconnect between the midfield and the attacking trio, blunting England’s attack entirely. This wasn’t a problem in the World Cup because the system used there was more of a 3-5-2, with Jordan Henderson as a single pivot and Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard acting as the side’s creative hub.
In this 3-4-3, however, that creative hub is missing entirely, largely because Southgate’s system uses a pair of more defensive-minded central midfielders. Would it work better with a more offensive-minded midfielder as one of the duo? Perhaps, but that’d leave England more open to opposition attacks.
Overall then despite tonight’s win, it seems clear that switching back to 4-3-3 – and looking to put together a more cohesive midfield - is the way forward for Southgate and England.
#2 England’s form players come through on the night
Tonight’s England side was a hugely experimental one. Gareth Southgate handed debuts to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Bukayo Saka, Reece James, and Harvey Barnes, while also handing Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips, Conor Coady and Ainsley Maitland-Niles only their second caps.
Thankfully, those players – who have been brought into the England squad due to their club form – largely all delivered. Grealish and Calvert-Lewin combined brilliantly for England’s first goal, and the Aston Villa captain looked dangerous going forward all night long.
Phillips was tremendous as England’s holding midfielder, constantly stealing the ball from his opponents and finding some excellent passes at times. Coady was solid at the back and scored an unlikely goal – his first at any level since 2018.
Saka, meanwhile, looked nervous early on, but grew into the game and was excellent during the second half. And James, Barnes, and Maitland-Niles all looked comfortable once they came on from the bench.
Southgate may have an issue going forward in a sense that he tends to trust certain players – Declan Rice and Jadon Sancho, for instance – meaning that more opportunities for the likes of Grealish and Phillips may be limited in the future. But the England boss certainly has options, and that kind of competition can only be good for the squad overall.