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Why England should stick by their new formation, writes MARTIN KEOWN

  • England take on the Netherlands in the Euro 2024 semi-finals on Wednesday 

England’s change of system from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1 in order to match up with Switzerland not only proved effective in how we controlled our opponents. It also got our most creative players higher up the pitch than they had been in previous matches.

England should 100 per cent use the same system against the Netherlands. It was no coincidence that Bukayo Saka had his best game of Euro 2024 against the Swiss as he benefited from what was around him. 

For Saka, his partnership with Phil Foden can only have reminded him of the one he enjoys with Martin Odegaard at Arsenal.

Saka was taking up high and wide positions while Foden was popping up in the inside pocket like Odegaard, and the Dutch will be fearful of the damage this duo could do together. 

The Netherlands will have Nathan Ake at left back, and Virgil van Dijk as the left-sided centre back. Saka can occupy Ake while Foden can present a dilemma to Van Dijk, who must decide whether to stay or go with him.

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) has plenty to ponder tactically ahead of the Three Lions' crucial Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday night

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) has plenty to ponder tactically ahead of the Three Lions’ crucial Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday night

England's new formation could give Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk a headache in defence

England’s new formation could give Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk a headache in defence

If Bukayo Saka occupies Nathan Ake, Phil Foden (centre) can give the Dutch skipper a dilemma

If Bukayo Saka occupies Nathan Ake, Phil Foden (centre) can give the Dutch skipper a dilemma

VAN DIJK’S DILEMMA

When Saka pushes forward down the right he will force Nathan Ake to stay put and deal with him, giving Van Dijk a dilemma… 

Option 1: If Van Dijk decides to stay to avoid leaving Kane in space, Foden has the chance to cause damage with the ball, as Ake will be occupied by Saka… 

Option 2: But if Van Dijk does decide to come out of the back four to stop Foden, it may leave space behind for Kane to nip in — if Foden can then find him, he will be through on goal… 

Foden will give Van Dijk a problem if he occupies space in the danger zone

Foden will give Van Dijk a problem if he occupies space in the danger zone

If Van Dijk pushes forward, it will create space in behind for Harry Kane

If Van Dijk pushes forward, it will create space in behind for Harry Kane

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If Van Dijk stays, Foden will have bags of space with which he can get to work. If Van Dijk is teased into coming out of his defensive line to cover him, that will leave a big space in behind which Harry Kane or even Jude Bellingham could exploit.

The same situation can be replicated on the other side of the pitch, with Kieran Trippier — or Luke Shaw if he starts — and Bellingham. 

England are not the only nation who struggled creatively early on in this tournament, but this 3-4-2-1 seems the best way forward if Southgate’s side want to win these Euros.

Set-piece threat must improve 

Southgate and his analysts will have seen how poorly the Netherlands defended the corner they conceded to Poland in the group stage, as their players stood around like mannequins. 

While it was a long throw-in that saw England avoid elimination by Slovakia, set-pieces remain an area in which we can vastly improve. 

No other nation has won more fouls than England heading into this semi-final stage, while Virgil van Dijk has been the biggest offender. Now is the time to make those set-pieces count.

Beware Denzel’s dynamite raids

The Netherlands start with a 4-2-3-1 formation but when in possession, Denzel Dumfries will push up from right back to right wing with Steven Bergwijn or Donyell Malen moving inside. That has been a signature move of the Dutch at this tournament, seeing their shape morph into a 3-2-4-1. 

On the left side of the pitch, Cody Gakpo stays high and wide, using his pace and power to break inside and get shots off on goal. Kyle Walker will need to handle Gakpo, who is chasing the Golden Boot after scoring three times at these Euros.

The Netherlands will have considered changing their system to match up to England, as we did against Switzerland. However, I’m sure Southgate will be expecting the unexpected and ready for any last-minute tactical tweaks made by Ronald Koeman.

England must beware Denzel Dumfries, who explodes down the right hand side for the Dutch

England must beware Denzel Dumfries, who explodes down the right hand side for the Dutch

Kane and Bellingham have been fouled more than any other English player
Dumfries took up advanced positions against Turkey on the right flank

Dumfries impressed against Turkey (right), while Van Dijk has conceded the most fouls (left)

The Three Lions need to improve from set-pieces against the Netherlands in the semi-finals

The Three Lions need to improve from set-pieces against the Netherlands in the semi-finals

Declan Rice has been a crucial part of England's shape in midfield this tournament
Xavi Simons moved into a more central position against Turkey

The battle between Declan Rice (left) and Xavi Simons (right) in midfield could decide the tie

Rice must come to boil in Xavi battle

England will need to contain Xavi Simons, who started Euro 2024 on the right wing but was soon moved to a central role at No 10, where I’ve been impressed by his decision-making.

The Dutch midfield duo of Jerdy Schouten and Tijjani Reijnders will sit and punch piercing passes between the lines into Simons, who can co-ordinate attacks if given time and space.

Declan Rice will constantly come into contact with Simons in this showdown and this is a key battle that England’s midfielder will need to win if we are to make the final.