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23rd Jun 2018

Chris Waddle: “Kyle Walker is a natural in a back three”

England legend Chris Waddle speaks exclusively to JOE about how England should approach their match against Panama

Reuben Pinder

Confidence is riding high after England’s last-gasp win against Tunisia, but what can we learn from the performance? England legend Chris Waddle spoke to JOE about how England should approach their match against Panama on Sunday afternoon

It has been a long process, but after two years, Gareth Southgate seems to have finally found the right formula for getting the most out of this young, talented England squad.

After a humiliating defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, very few people would have thought that formula would include Kyle Walker playing in a back three, Eric Dier being dropped and Ashley Young playing at left wing-back.

Yet here we are and Chris Waddle, who played in World Cups in 1986 and 1990, has been very impressed, particularly by Kyle Walker who – bar giving away a dubious penalty – played exceptionally against Tunisia.

“Especially at international football, he’s ideal for it [a back three]. He’s mobile, quick, decent on the ball. He can do a job at right-back if we have to go to a four but Trippier has played well in the first game. Walker’s fitted in their great, he reads the game well, he’s learned at Spurs and is learning more at City. He looks a natural in the three,” Waddle says.

Walker’s marauding runs helped push England up the pitch against Tunisia, in a game from which Waddle believes they can take a lot of positives.

“They can take a lot of confidence,” he says. “The opposition was not the strongest, but the tempo they played at; they got off to them quick, had a lot of movement, a lot of energy, they passed the ball well, they looked confident and created numerous chances – which is the hardest part of football. Apart from giving away penalty, the first half was how Gareth Southgate would like to have seen them play.”

Although he is insistent that nobody should be getting carried away. If Harry Kane had not saved the day in the final minute against Tunisia, the nation would be rueing the missed chances in the first half.

“England do play a high tempo so they might run out of steam. That’s a bit of a concern when you’re playing better sides, if you haven’t taken your chances, you could get punished,” he adds.

Belgium’s win against Panama sets England up nicely for their second game, as the Central American side will be forced to play more openly than they would ideally like to.

“It’ll be interesting to see how Panama play, they need a result – if England and Belgium win, there’s the group finished. I don’t think Panama will sit back as much as Tunisia did second half. They’ve got a bit of pace, I think they’ll be a bit more adventurous,” he says.

“It’s much easier to organise defence than it is to dictate the pace of the game and dominate possession – it’s a lot harder to do that.”

Gareth Southgate’s tactics for the Panama game were recently ‘leaked’ after a diagram that displayed England’s was snapped by a long lens. The diagram revealed that Marcus Rashford was in line to replace Raheem Sterling next to Kane, while Loftus-Cheek is likely to start in place of Dele Alli, who sustained a thigh strain against Tunisia.

“Loftus-Cheek has a lot of ability, technically very good. I don’t think it’ll hinder England a lot, leaving Dele Alli out”, Waddle says with a relaxed confidence.

The Sterling / Rashford conundrum is a more complicated matter. Both players have similar skillsets but the 3-5-2 formation dictates that only one can play alongside captain Harry Kane.

“What Rashford showed against Costa Rica… he’s looked good.  Sterling, we know he’s got great pace but he’s not scoring goals, he’s giving the ball away a lot, losing possession, so I can understand the change,” Waddle says.

Sterling’s role in this England side is the role he has craved throughout his career but is different from how Pep Guardiola has used him so effectively at Manchester City.

“He’s probably enjoying his role, he’s wanted to be a number 10 but it’s not happened for the lad,” he says.

“Looking at the last few England games, his ball retention is poor and when he does get into areas to score, he’s not doing it. He’s in the team to score and create, and if you’re not doing either, the guys in the background have to got to get their chances. And it looks like Rashford will.”

It’s almost impossible for England fans not to get giddy at the thought of England going deep into this tournament and – dare I say it – winning the whole thing. Imagining such a scenario brings up the inevitable discussion around penalties, a discussion that brings up memories of heartbreak for Waddle, who missed the penalty that sent Germany to the final in Italia ’90.

He is a firm believer that it is pot luck and doesn’t think it even warrants much attention. “It’s luck, if they win it they win it, if they lose it they lose it. We are obsessed with it,” he insists.

There is a largely positive energy surrounding the England team at the moment, with many people asserting that this team is unburdened by past failures, that there is little expectation on this team to succeed. That, of course, is not entirely true, as Waddle explains.

“Expectation’s not as high, but there’s always pressure on England,” he says

While people say they’ve come here with nothing to lose, there is, there’s pressure. And if you win again, you’re through. Then that’s when expectations start getting higher.”

When the opposition is of a similar level that’s also when we will really find out how good this England side is. “We can’t judge how good England are until we get to the knockout stages,” he adds. “Against better sides we’ll find out if it’s working, playing on the front foot, or will they have to change our tactic slightly against the better teams.”