There can be no denying the profound impact Pep Guardiola has had on the career of Kyle Walker. Signed from Spurs last summer, Walker has become a key figure of Manchester City’s Premier League-winning side over the past 12 months or so and not entirely in the way that was predicted.
Walker is still, by trade, a full back. But Guardiola, such is his nature, has brought more out of the 28-year-old’s game. Walker is now adept at playing in more central positions, often occupying the place on the right side of the three-man defence Man City used at times last season.
This is where Walker is most likely to play for England at the World Cup this summer. Gareth Southgate has recently adopted a back three with wing backs and this is where Walker’s newfound versatility will come in handy. However, he could also be England’s weak link in Russia.
Of course, in terms of quality Walker is far from England’s weak link. He is a Premier League champion and the best right-sided defender the Three Lions currently have. But he is not a natural centre back, despite what he has learned from Guardiola this season, and in that there could be a weakness for opposition sides to expose.
Kieran Trippier will likely play as the wing back on the right side, although Trent Alexander-Arnold might still snatch that position given the form he has found over the latter part of the season. But between that right wing back and Walker, there will be space to exploit. Walker’s natural urge to attack might also leave gaps between him and his central defensive teammates, most likely to be Harry Maguire and John Stones.
If Romelu Lukaku is shrewd, he’ll have already clocked this and will be planning to drift between Walker and his defensive teammates when Belgium face England on June 28 in Kaliningrad. Against teams like Panama and Tunisia, Southgate’s grand plan will probably work, but against teams of a higher calibre this is where it could be undone.
Of course, this is the risk one takes with a back three. There will be space for opposition sides to exploit in behind the wing backs, and if the centre backs come across to cover then space will be found in the centre. This is the compromise you make by opting for such a shape and system.
It’s possible that Southgate could use Walker as a wing back and turn to a natural centre back to play as a member of the back three alongside Maguire and Stones. But Walker has shown enough at club level over the course of last season to suggest the pros to using him as a right-sided centre back might outweigh the cons. The pressure is on for him to demonstrate this at the World Cup this summer.
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