Time To Try Something New?
Belgium (twice), Croatia, Spain – England’s four defeats since adopting a 3-4-2-1 under Gareth Southgate are telling. Against weaker opposition, the formation is the absolute business, freeing their wide men, ensuring Harry Kane doesn’t become isolated in attack and giving England an extra gigantic centre-half to attack set pieces with.
Anyone worth their salt, however, has correctly identified that Jordan Henderson haring around on his tod after two, sometimes three, top-class central midfielders is a recipe for trouble.
Whilst developing a game plan that’s too good for football’s lesser lights is more than most recent England sides have conjured, Southgate has rightly targeted England’s wretched record against international footy’s very best as an area for improvement.
Looking at the limited pool of players available to him it’s time he took steps to whip up a slightly different sauce for the goose. The gander’s ruddy delicious by the way Gazza, don’t go changing that recipe, but a formation that plugs a few more holes in the middle of the park may be advisable when trying to topple the big boys.
A more compact 3-5-2? A frankly decadent 3-4-3? 4-4-f*cking-2? Who knows. That’s for waistcoat boy to work out.
Bearing in mind this is a now relatively rare friendly and Switzerland’s permanent status as ‘quietly competent’, this could be the ideal environment to try tinkering with the method a little.
Why Welbz Up Top Is A Fantastic Thing
Harry Kane looks frankly knackered. And with pretty good reason.
Tonight looks set to be Harry Kane's 62nd start since the beginning of last season. He's also managed to fit in ankle and hamstring injuries in that time. Ludicrous workload, really.— Daniel Storey (@danielstorey85) September 10, 2018
Spurs fans everywhere will be desperate to see Kane benched but with Marcus Rashford seemingly out with a tight hamstring, England’s only other fit striker is Dat Guy.
Quite what more Callum Wilson needs to do remains a pertinent question, but the silver lining is, that for all his faults, Welbz has form against the Swiss. The gangly lumped netted twice in Basel to put them to the sword during Euro 2016 qualification.
Here he is accepting a Ricky Lambert (!) assist to wrap up the tie.
Now a national treasure up their with David Attenburgh and the Wealdstone Raider, Kane needs to be wrapped in cotton wool and cryogenically frozen between games from now on. As workmanlike as the lone alternative is, there’s absolutely no need for Kane to play a minute of this one, Gazza.
Tarkowski – Grasp The Nettle Dear Boy
With Joe Gomez impressing against Spain and the Kyle Walker experiment looking like it’s got legs, Burnley’s James Tarkowski has the chance to demote Phil Jones from the England pecking order forever here.
Think I’m being mean? Remind yourself of this year’s FA Cup final, WC 3rd place playoff and Man United v Spurs recently. The lad plays the game with the all the grace and critical thought of a pissed goat.
Please, for love of god James, don’t botch this.
How Handy Are The Swiss?
On to England’s opponent. The Swiss boast a healthy smattering of Champions League standard players for a country the size of Yorkshire, but whose current FIFA ranking probably flatters them a smidge. For every Breel Embolo of Schalke, there’s a Timm Klose of Norwich still doing the rounds.
The muesli-munchers may sit 8th in the world at the moment but their World Cup in Russia probably offers a fairer indication of where they’re at – stodgy and disciplined enough to hold Brazil to a draw, dull enough to crash out to Sweden 1-0 in the round of 16.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT THEM SPANKING ICELAND 6-0 LAST WEEK, PETE?” all of you no doubt cry.
Shouldn’t we be at the least bit worried? I’d argue those Viking gits have been long overdue a hiding and that England will be fine provided Xherdan Shiqiri isn’t afforded the chance to wind up an bicycle kick from outside the box. Then they’re obviously f*cked.
Finally, in the dugout you’ll find Vladimir Petkovic. Statistically Switzerland’s greatest ever manager, Petkovic boasts a chunky 62% win rate over four years and the look of a man who’s no stranger to casually cheese wiring mob rivals down dark alleys.
New Kid From The Bloc
Keep an eye out for FC Basel newbie, Albian Ajeti, as the Swiss continue their search for a razor-sharp finisher. Since dish-faced goal-fiend, Alexander Frei, called it a day, the Swiss have lacked a true cutting edge, with winger Xherdan Shaqiri comfortably the highest international scorer in their squad with 22.
21-year-old Basel star Ajeti picked up the Swiss Superleague’s Golden Clog with 17 goals last year and was on target just 6 minutes into his debut against Iceland this week.
In the nicest possible way, the scant YouTube evidence available points to a unashamed goal hanger, humping home rebounds from 3 yards by the bucketload before wheeling away like he’s just won the Champions League. You don't get extra points for nice goals however and Ajeti is already impressively prolific.
Have we found the true heir to Pippo Inzaghi’s sweaty goal throne?
One of England’s favourite opponents, the Three Lions have a proud record against the Swiss, losing just 3 times in 25 meetings. The boys from Bern last tasted victory in 1981 whilst their last duel in 2015 was notable for Wayne Rooney’s record-breaking 50th international goal.