It’s becoming increasingly clear that Gareth Southgate sees a three-man defence as a vital component of England’s World Cup bid next summer; since becoming permanent manager, four of his nine games in charge have involved a back three – including the last two.
Of course, back threes have become incredibly common at the top end of the Premier League since Antonio Conte introduced 3-4-2-1 at Chelsea during the opening months of last season. But potentially the most important player in successfully implementing that system in Russia next summer currently plies his trade lower down the table – Leicester City’s Harry Maguire.
The former Hull City man – who Transfermarkt value at £7.2million – has been phenomenal for the Foxes since arriving at the King Power Stadium in the summer, combining sheer size and power with quality in possession, and he’s carried that form to international level as well.
In fact, he provided arguably one of England’s best individual performances against Germany on Friday night, playing a key part in claiming a clean sheet against the reigning world champions while making an impact on the ball – highlighted by his three chances created, 75 touches and 94% passing accuracy.
Of course, ability in possession is not only an integral asset in international football but also for defenders operating in a back three, expected to step into midfield when opportunities allow and take more responsibility on the ball as the wing-backs push further up.
But what makes Maguire so crucial is that he’s emerging as the arguably best candidate for the most troubled spot in any back three – the left centre-back slot. None of England’s centre-halves are naturally left footed and although Gary Cahill occupies that role at Chelsea, it’s rarely his technique and passing that earns the plaudits. Maguire, though, looked more than comfortable at left centre-back on Friday night, especially when in possession.
If there’s one factor counting against him, it’s that Cahill will be playing the left-sided role practically every week for the remainder of the season, whereas Leicester usually line up in a more traditional back four.
But if the 24-year-old continues to take the chances Southgate offers him at left centre-back, the next of which could well com against Brazil tomorrow night, the Chelsea skipper may find himself sidelined to Maguire’s benefit by the time the World Cup in Russia comes around.