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Southgate’s flexibility in defence has set England on path to glory

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iven England initially headed into these Euros with no fewer than four right-backs, perhaps it is no surprise that defence has proved such a key factor in their route to the semi-finals.

Only injury cost Trent Alexander-Arnold his place — and based on Gareth Southgate’s approach to the five games so far, it is safe to assume the Liverpool full-back would have had a part to play, despite the competition in his position.

Southgate has switched his rearguard in every game of these finals, in terms of personnel, system or both.

Ben Chilwell is the only one of five named full-backs yet to feature, although he was set to  start against Czech Republic until forced to self-isolate as a Covid precaution.

That constant rotation at the back has been a key part of England’s planning — and their flawless defensive record.

It is more than 11 hours since England last conceded, when John Stones’s lapse in concentration allowed Jakub Moder to score for Poland in March.

Since then, they have put up a white wall as imposing as the cliffs of Dover en-route to the last four.

It has been the foundation of their success, carrying them through the group stages when the forward line was misfiring.

It is Southgate’s use of his full-backs that has been so intriguing.

The only other position so frequently changed has been that of the third forward alongside Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling.

It is an area England’s manager sees as a key creative outlet — be it from set-piece delivery or in open play. And it is, perhaps, the physical demands on those players in the wide positions that prompts him to change them so frequently.


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