Solly March: The Unheralded Solution to England's Left Wing-Back Problem

Scott McCarthy
Brighton wing-back Solly March has been linked with an England call up for November's internationals
Brighton wing-back Solly March has been linked with an England call up for November's internationals / Alex Pantling/Getty Images
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England are less than one year away from the rescheduled Euro 2020 and Gareth Southgate is still yet to solve his left wing-back problem.

The Three Lions are spoilt for choice on the right, but the cupboard is pretty much bare when it comes to players who can fill the same role on the opposite flank of Southgate's favoured 3-4-3 formation.

It is a position that has troubled Southgate throughout much of his reign. Ashley Young was something of a surprise choice there during England's run to the 2018 World Cup semi finals and since then, Southgate has rattled through a number of options, none of whom have been particularly convincing.

In October's three internationals, Southgate tried three different players, all of whom had the look of square-pegs-in-round-holes about them.

Right-back Kieran Tripper was used out of position by England at left-wingback in the Three Lions' 2-1 win over Belgium
Right-back Kieran Tripper was used out of position by England at left-wingback in the Three Lions' 2-1 win over Belgium / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Bukayo Saka started in the 3-0 victory against Wales; Kieran Trippier in the 2-1 win over Belgium and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the 1-0 defeat to Denmark. Of those, only Saka could be considered to be a natural in the position - Trippier is a right-back and Maitland-Niles is most comfortable in midfield.

This uncertainty is perhaps why Southgate is rumoured to be considering a shock call up for Brighton & Hove Albion's Solly March. The 26-year-old has been in excellent form for the Seagulls so far and crucially, he is playing every week in a side which play a similar 3-4-3 to Southgate's England. That makes March oven-ready for the England role.

March has always been talented; what he has lacked until this season is consistency. Brighton signed him from non league neighbours Lewes in late 2011 and he made his senior Seagulls debut as a 19-year-old a little under two years later for Oscar Garcia.

By the end of the 2013/14 season, March had done enough to earn a place in England's Under-20 squad, picking up four caps at that level and three caps for the Under-21s - crucially under the management of Southgate.

Solly March has previously played for England Under 21s under the management of Gareth Southgate
Solly March has previously played for England Under 21s under the management of Gareth Southgate / Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Since Southgate's promotion to the top job in 2016, he has relied heavily on players that he knows from his time in charge of the Under-21s. March was one of Southgate's favourites when they worked together previously; he would have won many more caps were it not for two long term injuries which have had a lasting affect on his career up until now.

March's 2014/15 season came to a premature end when he was ruled out in February 2015 with a complicated calf injury. He returned for 2015/16 and was one of the star performers as Chris Hughton's side started the campaign with a 21 game unbeaten streak, until he was stretchered off away at Derby County in December with a serious knee injury which required an operation. March was on the shelf for nearly a year.

Speaking to the Independent in 2017, March said of the injury: “It’s always in the back of my mind, and I think it always will be. You try and protect it and look after the knee - things like if a tackle is coming in and you know you’re not going to win the ball, just stay out of it.

"Not bottle a challenge: but just if you know you’re not going to come out with the ball, or if they’re coming in at a certain angle, maybe take your feet off the ground so they don’t get stuck and it doesn’t twist. Just be smarter about things. Be aware of who’s around you.”

Solly March scored the goal against Wigan Athletic which secured Brighton's promotion to the Premier League in 2017
Solly March scored the goal against Wigan Athletic which secured Brighton's promotion to the Premier League in 2017 / Dan Istitene/Getty Images

March scored the goal against Wigan Athletic on Easter Monday 2017 which sealed Brighton's promotion to the Premier League, but in truth he has never looked quite the same player that had been so exciting between his 2013 debut and that agonising afternoon at Pride Park.

Over the past four years, March would have two good games followed by three anonymous ones, causing frustration amongst Brighton fans. This inconsistency is why not many Seagulls supporters would have shed too many tears had March been sold to Newcastle United, Leeds United or Everton, as was rumoured in the summer.

Potter's decision to revert to a back three for the 2020-21 season has since reinvigorated March. He is now delivering week in, week out for the first time as a Premier League player. He rounded off an excellent performance in the controversial 3-2 home defeat to Manchester United with a rare goal and played a big part in Tariq Lamptey's equaliser at Tottenham Hotspur with a crunching slide tackle on Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

That may well have been a foul, but for Brighton fans the sight of March flying into a challenge is a sign that his confidence is back and he is a player at the top of his game.

March tore the Manchester United defence apart at the Amex, scoring Brighton's second goal of the afternoon
March tore the Manchester United defence apart at the Amex, scoring Brighton's second goal of the afternoon / Pool/Getty Images

Is that enough for Southgate? It should be. The England manager has long claimed that he picks players on form, although there are plenty of examples from his four years in charge which prove that is not always the case - including March's Brighton teammate Lewis Dunk, who has not had a look in despite being one of the most consistent defenders in the Premier League over the past three seasons.

Seagulls supporters who have panned Southgate for apparently having an anti-Brighton agenda due to his Crystal Palace connections would be left bemused about an international summons for a player who until the summer, many of them did not rate highly.

Dunk's exclusion can at least be put down to England having fierce competition for places at centre half. Right now, there do not seem to be many players who can rival March for form and suitability to play as a left wing-back, and although a call-up for him would come as a shock, it could well be well a shrewd move - one that might just provide Southgate with an answer to his biggest headache.

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