What did the manager learn from these three games? The major take-away was the viability of a return to 4-3-3. Gareth Southgate also tried 4-2-3-1 at the outset against Albania, albeit with less success. He had seemed wedded to 3-4-3, feeling it best covered him in the event of losing key players in areas of weakness, namely left-back and defensive midfield. But the return of Luke Shaw and the continued progress of Kalvin Phillips have changed the dynamic. Ditto the comeback of John Stones in central defence, which gives Southgate further confidence to use a back four, albeit the Manchester City player was guilty of a dreadful lapse to give away a goal against Poland.
Southgate felt Phillips was comfortable in front of the defence or as a No 8, although the Leeds player could be behind James Ward-Prowse in the pecking order for the latter role. Kyle Walker has gone from being first choice on the right of a back three to first choice at right-back and his flexibility raises the prospect of Southgate choosing between Reece James and Kieran Trippier for the European Championship finals. Or maybe the either/or will be in central defence between Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings. Declan Rice, Mason Mount and Phil Foden burnished their reputations.
Which players not involved could still make the squad? Southgate missed a host of players through injury and, of them, Jordan Pickford, Jordan Henderson and Marcus Rashford are certain to return – assuming they are fit – while Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish and possibly Harvey Barnes will do battle with each other, most likely for two places. Danny Ings or Tammy Abraham would be hopeful of inclusion if Southgate were to need cover up front for Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin but Rashford could provide that option, squeezing them out. Pickford’s status as the No 1 goalkeeper looks assured after Nick Pope had a few wobbly moments with his distribution, particularly against Poland. That said, it does feel harsh to judge Pope on the work he has done with his feet when he has done nothing wrong with his hands. Henderson is a worry, with Southgate saying the Liverpool captain faced a fitness race that would go “close to the end of the season” after groin surgery.