John Stones evaluates England’s chances of adapting to back three at Euro 2024

John Stones evaluates England’s chances of adapting to back three at Euro 2024

John Stones believes England have already seen a “shift” and “unlocked” two key qualities for the latter stages of Euro 2024, in their ability to score crucial late goals and “seamlessly” switch between formations.

Gareth Southgate and his players feel that Jude Bellingham’s 95th-minute equaliser against Slovakia has had a transformative mood on the camp, and there is a sense that can create a fear factor among opposition sides.

It hasn’t been clear in the week since, however; ongoing concerns about performance as well as Marc Guehi’s suspension have led England to work on a three-man backline.

Stones says that can fit with the resolve which the team have started to develop after beating Slovakia, however.

“It wouldn’t be a bad thing to create that in the back of [opponents’] minds,” said the centre-back. “As I said before, when we’ve done that in the last minute in such a difficult situation, you believe you can do it again if needed. I wish it didn’t go the way it did, in respect of the timeframe – needing that to take us to extra-time.

“I wish it was done and dusted early doors, but that’s not football. It’s a great tool we’ve unlocked. We know it’s there now if we need it. It’s not always going to go our way. I hope it does, but it is super difficult to have in football when you’ve got incredible players that can come up with big pressure moments like that.”

Stones also does not believe a switch to three at the back would be too abrupt, given how England used it at Euro 2020 against Germany and in Southgate’s first tournament, back at the 2018 World Cup.

Stones says he would not directly approach the manager and offer his counsel on it, but that he feels the set-up wouldn’t pose any issues.

Stones (right) discussing tactics with manager Gareth Southgate during the win over Slovakia (Getty Images)

“I’ve not spoken to him about it, I wouldn’t go to him with potentially a big decision like that. We’ve done it in previous tournaments before, though: Germany, I remember, the last Euros; previously to that in 2018. I think it’s a great thing to have in the locker for us as a team, if we need to go to that and play that system.

“It’s something that shouldn’t be underestimated for us as a team, that we can do it so easily and seamlessly, and kind of click together.”

Stones believes clicking could be crucial, to finally generate a positive momentum behind the team.

“We’ve got to try and bring that back, and that comes with winning, playing well, exciting the nation. We know that they are behind us and that’s an incredible feeling in itself, but to not be performing at our peak or as good as we know we can be is frustrating.

“That’s a point that I’ve made and wanted to get across to everyone: that we’ve got to do better, to keep improving, and progressing in this tournament. This week’s been great, seen a shift already. Sometimes in these games, in these tournaments, to win when it is not pretty is a positive.

Jude Bellingham (left) and Harry Kane scored England’s goals against Slovakia (Getty Images)

“I know everyone won’t see that in that way, but to get over the line in difficult moments not playing well… [It] only leads us to improve and get better and keep striving to play better, and hopefully it’ll be a turning point.

“We have team meetings regularly and look back over the game, debrief on it. It’s important to do that when we’ve had tough moments, good moments in there as well, and sometimes you have an overriding feeling of: ‘We didn’t play them, we played worse than we actually thought, or played better than we thought.’

“So, to watch it back and have a different emotion away from actually being on the pitch is, I find, super-beneficial. We created a lot of chances the other day, an improvement. I think conceding was one of the things that takes all the limelight from the performance.”