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How a starting XI might look if Gareth Southgate becomes Man Utd manager

England manager Gareth Southgate is currently preparing for what seems will be his last major international tournament.

Southgate was appointed in 2016, after a disappointing Euros, and brought harmony to an extremely toxic environment. 

The former Middlesbrough manager inherited an older squad and was able to bring through young players who we see star for England on a regular basis today.  

Despite changing the culture, Southgate has unfortunately fallen short on a few occasions of bringing history to the Three Lions with a quarter-final loss in Qatar in 2022 and a final loss in Euro 2020. 

The manager has taken England as far as they have been able to go in recent years, bringing a smile to everybody’s faces. 

However, Southgate has been questioned enormously on his tactical decisions during these big games and has left many questioning his tactical prowess. 

Additionally, fans have criticised the fact England seem to set up so defensively with such attacking talent. Many experts have also questioned the lack of impressive rotation, partnered with very slow ball speed. 

Changes behind the scenes at Old Trafford are encouraging the idea of Southgate taking over at the helm after his Euro 2024 campaign - and could see him reunite a partnership with new Manchester United sporting director Dan Ashworth. 

INEOS, the new Manchester United ownership, are a big fan of the culture change and environmental positivity that Southgate has created within the England camp. 

Here is how Manchester United could set up under Southgate if he ends up taking the managerial reins at Old Trafford. 

Formation and playing style 

Southgate lines up England in a 4-3-3 formation. The deepest midfielder of the three, typically Declan Rice, tends to drop in as the deep playmaker. 

Both central defenders split off, allowing full-backs to progress higher in the build-up. 

Southgate’s slow build-up possession style allows England striker Harry Kane to drop into deep areas and affect the game. Southgate has come under criticism for allowing Kane to drop in so deep, however Kane has demonstrated fantastic link-up play and contributes heavily with assists. 

As Kane drops deep, he creates space in forward areas and encourages the likes of Jude Bellingham, who has excelled in that higher position at Real Madrid, to attack the space.  

The stand-out achievement for England under Southgate would be their strong defensive record, conceding only four goals during the Euro qualifiers. 

Southgate has created sustainability with a backline that seems to have had a fair amount of criticism. Notably, Harry Maguire performs well in England colours but is struggling at club level. 

Defensive football seems to be a better approach in the early stages of knockout tournaments, however with such an increasing amount of tactical flexibility being created is Southgate falling behind? 

England are set up in a mid-block, creating a rest defence slightly behind the halfway line. Their compact shape has been a credit to his defensive resilience seeing England concede very few goals.  

England are continuing to evolve under Southgate into more of a pressing side with an increased PPDA. PPDA is a metric created to understand a team’s success when applying pressure. 

England in 2018 averaged a PPDA of 14.33, yet in the recent World Cup they averaged 9.24, showing that they are evolving. 

To Southgate’s credit, international football seems to involve much less of a pressing style than regular club football. 

This could be due to the high intensity provided with it, which we see every week at club level and simply wouldn’t be sustainable at international duty. 

Managers have less time to implement their pressing strategies, as they are always in constant preparation for upcoming tournaments and games. 

However, World Cup 2022 winners Argentina averaged a PPDA of 7.4 which was better than the average 8.8 seen at the tournament and better than England’s 9.24.  

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How a starting XI might look if Gareth Southgate becomes Man Utd manager 

GK – Jordan Pickford 

With Manchester United bringing in Andre Onana due to Erik ten Haag’s relationship with him could we see similar happen with Jordan Pickford? Jordan Pickford has been one of the standouts over the years at England and has held his place. Could we see him make a potential switch to join the Red Devils should we see Southgate take over? 

RB – Diego Dalot 

The emergence of Diego Dalot has been one of the very few positives this season for Manchester United. Dalot has been incredibly consistent and a fantastic servant. He would fit the ideal role being able to progress higher in the build-up which we see Southgate adopt at England.  

CB – Lisandro Martinez 

Martinez was a standout last year during his debut season at the club. His partnership with Harry Maguire last year provided a left-footed approach and kept Maguire on his favoured right side. The tenacity of Martinez mixed with the calmness of Maguire worked well during their famous Carabao Cup run in 2022. 

CB – Harry Maguire 

The faith entrusted in Maguire by Southgate has been something we have seen over numerous years. The England centre-half has had a vast amount of criticism during the last few seasons but has kept his space within the England team. Southgate trusts Maguire implicitly and he will no doubt keep his space in the Manchester United team. 

LB – Luke Shaw 

Luke Shaw has had a great spell for England under Southgate with a notable Euro 2020 final goal. His emergence for England shows the faith that was installed by the manager early with great competition in the full-back areas.  

CDM – Kobbie Mainoo 

Young England star Kobbie Mainoo has been a star outlet in this Manchester United side and a key player for the Red Devils. After his recent call-up to the England team, Southgate illustrated the importance of having him in the side due to such a unique profile he possesses.  

CM – Mason Mount 

Mason Mount has been hindered by injuries and struggled with his first nine months at Old Trafford. Mount has been a vital part of Southgate’s reign and the England manager has continued to trust Mount in huge games. Southgate coming in could spark a return to form and fitness for Mount.  

CM – Scott McTominay 

Box to box with bundles of energy sees Scott McTominay keep his place for Manchester United under Southgate. Within the midfield three, we often see Southgate pick a defensive-minded player who can get forward and affect the game. Jordan Henderson has been that player for several years, and we are now seeing Conor Gallagher also play that role.  

LW – Marcus Rashford 

There is a vast amount of history between Southgate and Marcus Rashford beginning in 2018 when Rashford was a wildcard selection for the World Cup. Rashford was awarded his England debut from Southgate and has continued to make appearances for him in many tournaments.  

RW – Jadon Sancho 

Sancho was loaned back to Borussia Dortmund in January 2023 after falling out with Red Devils manager Ten Hag. Sancho has a much better relationship with Southgate and was awarded his debut by the current England manager, who has continued to trust Sancho, who featured in both Euro 2021 and World Cup 2022.  

ST – Ivan Toney

The arrival and ambition of INEOS has sparked transfer rumours regarding the No 9 position at Old Trafford. Although Rasmus Hojlund has taken great strides in recent months, the position still seems quite a weak area. 

Anthony Martial looks like he will be heading out of Old Trafford this summer - opening up a vacancy for Ivan Toney, who is also seemingly on his way out of Brentford. 

Southgate has remained faithful to Toney despite an eight-month ban, awarding him his debut for England.  

Summary

Gareth Southgate will enter what looks to be his final tournament in charge of the Three Lions this summer.  

He remains in charge of delivering history for the nation, yet his next step is yet to be decided. 

Southgate heading to the Red Devils would be a remarkable return to club football and would begin a new era under Sir Jim Ratcliffe. 

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