Three is the magic number for Stuart Pearce as England head to Russia
Pearce hopes England deploy three defenders at the back during the World Cup.
Stuart Pearce believes Gareth Southgate’s preference for a three-man defence can be the key to England succeeding in Russia this summer.
Every England manager since Glenn Hoddle in 1999 has built their team on the traditional back four, but Southgate is preparing to take his team through the World Cup by playing both a 3-5-2 and a 3-4-3.
Pearce, now 56, played in successful England teams set up similarly at the 1990 World Cup, Euro 1996, and under Hoddle, often alongside Southgate, and he is also convinced by the so-far successful experiment of starting Kyle Walker in central defence.
Throughout Pearce’s managerial career he too played with a four-strong defence, but he told Press Association Sport: “It suits us to play three at the back and I hope we play three at the back.
“We’ve played very well, certainly in my time as a player, in my time being managed by people who played three at the back. When this generation of England players have played it it’s looked very good.
“Kyle Walker’s moved in one and looked very good as a central defender, and we’ve got wide players in the likes of (Danny) Rose and (Ashley Young) on one side and (Kieran) Trippier on the other that look as though they could comfortably be wing-backs as well as full-backs.
“When you’re defending you can defend as a five – you’re leaving smaller spaces then. It gives the wing-back the opportunity to stay high and wide. It’s easier to switch play in that system.
“It enables you to play a tight midfield three when you want, so you’ve got big numbers in the centre of the pitch, which is historically where the goals are scored and conceded. There’s so many benefits.
“I don’t think we’ve got a strong enough team and squad to win the tournament, but I see us coming out of the group stages. (Then) the draw’s absolutely critical.”
Pearce excelled when England reached tournament semi-finals in 1990 and 1996, and he said of the former: “We went into that tournament playing four at the back and then switched to a three and stayed with a three.
“We probably switched it a little bit more in ’96 when we started with a three at the back, then Terry (Venables) was quite happy to chop and change depending on the opposition and depending on how to win a game.
“Gareth’s had that mentality as well – he’s played with both systems, and changed his system, and the one thing looking at our squad is we’ve got the flexibility to do so within that squad.
“He’s played in an England shirt and three at the back and enjoyed his time.”
:: Stuart Pearce was speaking at the McDonald’s & Huntingdon FA Community Football Day in St Ives, giving thousands of children the chance to enjoy the beautiful game.