Having toyed with a 3-4-3 formation earlier on during his England reign, Gareth Southgate has seemingly settled on a 3-5-2 system ahead of Russia 2018, his first major tournament in charge of the senior side.
Whereas the initial setup appeared to allow Tottenham’s Eric Dier and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson to protect the defensive trio with a two-man buffer, Saturday’s game against Nigeria offered a glimpse into a more adventurous approach from the former Middlesbrough manager.
He believes he can field two playmakers either side of a sole holding midfielder; certainly against weaker opposition such as Tunisia and Panama and if England see off that duo in their opening two Group G matches, they will be in the knockout rounds.
The pair may well end up playing next to each other against tougher sides – should England make it that far – but for the time being, it looks to be a straight battle between them to start on June 18.
27-year-old Henderson has had the better season, with his energetic style coming to the fore as Liverpool stormed into the Champions League final by outworking Manchester City and Roma in midfield in dominant home performances.
Meanwhile, Dier has struggled slightly to hit the heights under Mauricio Pochettino, but can flit from centre-half to midfield and back again, and that adaptability is something that Southgate values highly in a Three Lions setup that he clearly wants to be flexible.
Although Dier comes out on top according to the stats, Henderson’s dynamism and superior momentum going into the tournament could just see him get the nod.
If Liverpool team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was fit, he’d be a likely starter in Russia and his relationship with Henderson would have given the former Sunderland man another edge.
As it is, Alli’s potential presence in central midfield could see his big pal Dier sway the balance, and if Henderson was a guaranteed starter, perhaps he would have been awarded the captaincy over Harry Kane.
It remains to be seen which way Southgate will go – and he could well go for both against elite opposition like Belgium – but who would you choose?
We’re giving you the opportunity to decide by voting in our poll below; keep your eye out for the result in the lead-up to the tournament…