England to practice three at the back ahead of Euro 2020 opener against Croatia as injury to key defender Harry Maguire forces Gareth Southgate to re-think shape… and Conor Coady is favourite to replace the Manchester United captain
- Gareth Southgate will explore reverting to a three-man defence for the Euros
- England are sweating over the fitness of Harry Maguire for the group stage
- Southgate will test a 3-4-3 in training ahead of their opener against Croatia
- Conor Coady is poised to replace Maguire if he does not reach full fitness
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.
England manager Gareth Southgate will explore reverting to a three-man defence for the Euros amid growing concerns that Harry Maguire could miss the group stage.
Having recently switched to a back four, Southgate will look at going back to the tried and tested 3-4-3 — which helped England to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 — in training ahead of next Sunday’s Euros opener against Croatia.
The absence of first-choice central defender Maguire for that game, at least, will prompt a rethink as Southgate looks to give his defence more protection.
Gareth Southgate will explore reverting to a three-man defence for the Euros this summer
Maguire was named in Southgate’s 26-man squad earlier this week despite an ankle ligament injury that has kept him out of action since May 9.
Sportsmail understands initial concerns were that Maguire’s recovery could take between six to eight weeks — but there is hope he will be available before.
There is significant doubt over Maguire’s involvement in the match against Scotland on June 18, which is likely to be the most intense and gruelling of all England’s group fixtures.
England’s final group game is against the Czech Republic on June 22, a little over six weeks after he sustained the injury.
Harry Maguire’s fitness concerns have forced the England boss to re-think his defensive plans
The system worked to good effect during the 2018 World Cup as England made the semi finals
There will also be fitness and sharpness concerns, given Maguire hasn’t played since suffering the injury at Villa Park on May 9. Southgate is taking a realistic view on Maguire’s fitness and is making contingency plans.
The Three Lions boss has often spoken about the need for his team to be flexible in terms of systems.
Having started with a back-four against Austria on Wednesday, England ended the game with a three-man defence.
The formation Southgate starts with in Sunday’s final pre-tournament friendly against Romania will not necessarily indicate how he will set up against Croatia. Champions League finalists Kyle Walker, John Stones and Reece James — who would be in contention to start in defence — are due to miss the game.
Southgate has advocated flexibility and will test out the system in training ahead of June 13
The Manchester City and Chelsea players involved in last week’s final in Porto have now reported for duty and could be on the bench, but are unlikely to feature.
If Southgate does play with a back three, two slots are likely to be taken by City pair Walker and Stones, while Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings will battle it out for the final place.
Coady, it is understood, is the favourite to play if Southgate decides to use 3-4-3. If he sticks with 4-2-3-1, Coady would likely play alongside Stones.
Wolves captain Conor Coady is the favourite to replace Maguire if he is unavailable for England
The move to a conventional back four in recent months has allowed England to field an extra attacker.
But a 3-4-3 formation would mean one less place in England’s forward line. It is a tough call for Southgate with Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden all vying for three places.
Jordan Henderson trained as normal on Friday and is hopeful of making his first appearance for club and country since February following groin surgery.
But even if he comes through Sunday’s outing unscathed, Southgate has admitted he is likely to be without his vice-captain for the start of the game against Croatia.
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