It was no secret England would go into the World Cup playing a back three. During the turn of the year friendlies, Kyle Walker emerged as the prime candidate for the right centre back role. Despite being better at right back than Kieran Trippier, manager Gareth Southgate saw it fit to utilise the Spurs man out wide because of his superior crosses and set piece deliveries. Given that Trippier is slower, Walker’s speed to cover the space on the right side of defence was seen as an asset. Plus, his ball playing ability was a much-needed bonus.
Recently, Arsene Wenger came out blasting Walker as a defensive liability in that role, going as far as to say he’s not a “real defender”. Wenger also cited that the things he could get away with as a full back, due to him being higher up the pitch and his great recovery speed, he couldn’t as a centre back. He also highlighted that Eric Dier is a superior defender for that slot and the Walker experiment will come back to bite England. Truth be told, so far the former Gunners gaffer seems to be spot on. Walker gave away a penalty against Tunisia and has been caught on the ball several times and has been lucky not to have been punished, especially against Colombia.
Earlier this year, Dier was supposedly shoehorned for that role. Southgate, like Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, sees him as a better defender than midfielder, but the player prefers the midfield role. Coming into the tournament, Southgate reiterated the fact he would play a more progressive brand of football, so it became evident that it would be Dier or Henderson for the deep midfield role and not both. Coming out of the Colombia game, Walker, Dele Alli and Harry Kane all suffered knocks. Of the three, only Kane soldiered on and Walker was replaced by Rashford. With Dier already subbed on, he went into the right centre back role in Walker’s place. It remains to be seen if Southgate will make yet another tough decision and choose to drop Walker if he’s fit for the supposedly safer option of Dier. The Spurs man has played in a back three several times this season for his club and has been consistently good throughout. Against a Sweden team who will seek to disrupt their flow and catch them on the break, England could be best served with a defender of Dier’s all-round quality who may not be as fast as Walker but should be steadier in that role.
On a another note, against Sweden, it may not be the best option to have both Alli and Jesse Lingard as starters given their similar styles. Southgate will need a midfielder who will be able to drive at Sweden’s compact midfield or unlock them with incisive passing to Kane or Raheem Sterling up front. It needs to be pointed out that all six of captain Kane’s goals have come from dead ball situations with open play service being near non-existent. These aforementioned two are better at making late runs into the box or shooting from outside it. Ruben Loftus-Cheek should be the prime candidate for this role. He also matches up physically with the Swedes and with this extra dimension, would give them something different to think about.