How England changed shape: Holland on Southgate’s tactical evolution

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England assistant manager reveals the influences and considerations that led to England’s decision to play a back three in Russia

It was over dinner one night in Sochi when the idea was crystallised. Gareth Southgate was with his assistant, Steve Holland, as he often tended to be last summer. They had the European Under-21 Championship to follow in Poland and, simultaneously, the Confederations Cup in Russia. Then one night, in a restaurant on the Black Sea, the discussion turned to England’s plans for the World Cup and changing the entire shape of the side.

By that stage, the two men masterminding England’s World Cup campaign were using their time in Russia to look at potential training bases. “We hadn’t qualified, of course, but without taking liberties we were looking at what might be a good place and experiencing the different climates,” Holland recalls of the conversations that led to England employing their current 3–3–2–2 formation. “We spent about four weeks on the road in Russia, the two of us. We went back to watch the under-21s when the England games were on and then came back for the Confederations Cup. We spent a lot of time on a plane but it really gave us the opportunity to speak about what we had learned over the year.”

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Written by Daniel Taylor in Repino
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