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Friday, July 19, 2024

England XI to face Slovenia – Gordon? Wharton? Three at the back? Our writers’ picks

England’s performance in the 1-1 draw with Denmark has received damning reviews from all corners.

Having beaten Serbia 1-0 in their first Euro 2024 game, Gareth Southgate’s side are top of Group C and likely to reach the round of 16, but the England manager has issues to solve.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was substituted from his midfield role, while Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane were taken off in Thursday’s draw.

Who deserves a chance against Slovenia on Tuesday? Anthony Gordon on the left? Adam Wharton or Kobbie Mainoo in the middle?

We asked our writers for their views and starting XIs. Some have made big calls, including playing three at the back or moving Saka to left-back.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.


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International management is all about open-mindedness. World Cup 2022 was England showing they were good enough to not need a back-five against better teams, but with issues at left-back, this tournament needs it. Sometimes you go backwards to go forward.

This won’t get even remotely close to the best out of Saka but would make the team more balanced. He played that role early in his England career and, more importantly, it puts a natural left-footer on that side and offers a great crossing threat for Kane and Bellingham. Saka would get more out of Foden on the left, too.

A back three provides superiority (numerically and aerially) against Slovenia’s front two (they play a narrow 4-4-2) and pushing the wing-backs on would overload the last line. It gives license for Alexander-Arnold to push forward or play in midfield, possibly in a hybrid role (see how well this worked for Switzerland with Michel Aebischer against Hungary). It still sticks to Southgate’s principles of controlling games and having a strong defensive base.

Liam Tharme


England have been so disappointing in the first two games, they now have a mountain of problems to solve if they are going to do anything in this tournament.

But what if I told you there was a way to fix their issues by moving only a few pieces around?

England have been blunt down the left, they have wasted Foden and they have failed to get runners around Kane.

All they need to do is play Saka at left-back. That’s where he used to play for England’s youth teams. He even played left wing-back for England early in his international career. He would give them balance and more incision than Kieran Trippier and he would allow Foden to cut in from the right as he does for City. This would create a position on the left of the attack that could go to Gordon, making those runs in behind which Kane needs to thrive.

That in itself would solve the tactical dilemmas, but while I was at it, I would drop Alexander-Arnold for Wharton, too.

Jack Pitt-Brooke


No structure, no shape and no control — Southgate has work to do to find the missing ingredients. The back four have done a decent job of protecting Pickford and Marc Guehi has been their best performer. Rice had a poor game with the ball against Denmark, but he is their only defensive midfield option.

So the changes must come in the front five, which has looked unbalanced with Foden and Bellingham trying to occupy the same No 10 space.

Instead, I would use both as high 8s, Foden to the left of Rice and Bellingham to the right, with Gordon coming in off the left flank.

I would encourage Foden to play a little higher than Bellingham and give Bellingham the freedom to be a box-to-box No 8, arriving into the box late, as he did to score against Serbia.

Rob Tanner


I am wary about repeating myself after my call for change from the Serbia game was ignored, but perhaps it will be a case of second time lucky.

England need an injection of energy and new ideas. While I believe the formation can still work, the personnel requires freshening up.

The team’s struggle on the flanks is a major issue. Foden keeps drifting inside and trying to do too much by himself to justify his pre-tournament billing. Saka looked tired and short of his usual spark, perhaps a consequence of the injury issues suffered during Arsenal’s season. That is why I have gone for Gordon on the left and a hitherto underused Palmer on the right.

It is time for the Alexander-Arnold experiment in midfield to end. Gallagher struggled in possession when he came on against Denmark, so Mainoo should be Rice’s partner.

And even though Kane looks below his best, England must keep faith with their all-time leading scorer.

Simon Johnson


The back four and goalkeeper stay the same. For all the talk heading into the tournament about that being the team’s potential weak spot, it’s been one of England’s (small) grounds for optimism, with Walker and Trippier the ever-dependables and Guehi excellent.

It’s time to take Alexander-Arnold out of the midfield. An outstanding footballer — we all wanted this experiment to work — but it hasn’t. I’d put Bellingham, England’s best player, next to Rice and shift Foden into his favoured position behind the striker.

Getting Foden on the ball in those pockets of space centrally — there were glimpses of this against Denmark — is crucial. I’d pick Gordon on the left to give a greater direct threat, with Saka on the right.

Resting Kane for the Slovenia match feels sensible, as he looked leggy against Denmark, with a fresh Watkins offering more runs in behind.

Tom Burrows


Southgate picked the same XI for the first two matches and everyone, even Southgate, would be of the opinion that changes are needed.

Bringing in Mainoo or Gordon may yield the positive changes we are all looking for but — and I’d be amazed if Southgate does this, but you never know — I’d change the formation.

The recurring issues from the Serbia and Denmark games were problems with the left side, issues progressing the ball through midfield, being unable to control games for substantial periods, and a lack of pace and/or pressing up front.

Alexander-Arnold looks lost in midfield, so I’m moving him out to right wing-back where he should feel far more comfortable and will have Walker behind him. Gordon hasn’t played a minute yet, but his ability to stretch the play, press and provide width are what England need.

Tim Spiers


I have my doubts over whether you can play Foden, Bellingham and Kane in the same XI and get the best out of all three.

Foden’s preference to come inside and receive to feet means Kane has one less outlet for his long passes. In comes Gordon to get chalk on his boots and run in behind defenders.

I’m going to cheat, wave the magic wand of hypothetical XIs and say Shaw is now fit to play 90 minutes. In hindsight, the England manager should have brought an additional fit left-footed left-back to Germany (Tyrick Mitchell), but here we are.

Next comes Wharton for Alexander-Arnold in midfield. He should help with ball circulation in the middle third and he’s slightly stronger in the air than Mainoo.

Mainoo, Palmer and Bowen are my suggested substitutes for the second half.

Carl Anka


 

The problem is approach and mentality, not necessarily formation, and though I hear what others are saying about moving Saka to left-back or left wing-back, it’s not for me.

The goalkeeper and back four, which has largely restricted opponents well, stays the same, other than Joe Gomez offering fresh energy at left-back in front of Trippier, who looks a little jaded physically and mentally.

That doesn’t solve the ‘right-footer at left-back’ problem, but the inclusion of Newcastle’s dynamic, hungry Gordon on the left wing offers more thrust and natural width.

Crystal Palace’s precocious Adam Wharton offers game-breaking progressive passes and composure when pressed.

Otherwise, it’s as you were, with Alexander-Arnold, Foden, Palmer, Eze and Watkins offering game-changing options from the bench.

If Kane is off-colour in training, I’d happily rest him and start Watkins to stretch the Slovenian defence and help improve the ‘everyone crowding into the No 10 position’ problem.

Max Mathews


My approach is pretty simple, if radical: drop Kane. You’ll have to believe me when I tell you there’s no Arsenal bias on my part — we know better than most just how effective a fit and firing Kane can be.

Despite his goal against Denmark, Kane looks way short of his best. He’s not a good presser, he’s not running in behind, and it’s making England’s attack look one-dimensional.

It’s perfectly possible to dress this up as ‘resting’ Kane for the final group game. If it doesn’t work, bring him back in. But if it does? Then perhaps this is the start of a new era.

Watkins is an ideal replacement. I’ve also the midfield structure, bringing in Wharton to release Rice to press high in conjunction with Bellingham.

Instantly, there’s a more dynamic feel to the team and this setup would also benefit wide men Saka and Foden. I’d encourage a bit of rotation between them, too — both players are versatile, so there’s no need for them to stick rigidly to one wing.

James McNicholas


I was sceptical that Trent Alexander-Arnold was the answer in England’s midfield, despite me picking an unchanged team against Denmark, but it is time to admit the experiment has failed. I can understand Gareth Southgate’s reasoning in the first game in the absence of a metronomic passer, but Declan Rice is having to do far too much out of possession to accommodate him.

To that point, of the other options, I would revert to Kobbie Mainoo. Conor Gallagher lacks the quality in possession and is always at risk of a booking, while Adam Wharton’s 16 top-flight games for Crystal Palace means he is still too much of a risk in major tournament football. While Mainoo has only played eight games more, he has shown he can bring much-needed balance to the England midfield and also scored important goals for Manchester United playing under greater pressure.

Ahead of the tournament, the concern was England’s defence, but Marc Guehi has been a standout performer while Kieran Trippier has proven an able deputy at left-back. I would resist the temptation to change the shape, but with England’s attack yet to fire, having the lowest xG against figure is the perfect foundation to build upon.

Jordan Halford


Luke Shaw is still not training fully with the team with the third game looming and he has not kicked a ball in competitive football since mid-February. The idea that he can ride to England’s rescue by offering natural width on the left is fanciful. He will do well to play any meaningful role in the tournament.

In the absence of another proper left-back, it is time for a re-think because we cannot expect to trouble better sides with the willing-but-right-footed Kieran Trippier filling in.

Reverting to three at the back would remove Bukayo Saka from his best position — an obvious negative — but he has done well previously as a left-wing-back.

This would also allow England to flood the midfield with players, mitigating any defensive worries about having Jude Bellingham deeper alongside Declan Rice, potentially allow John Stones more licence to bring the ball out from the back, and provide some crosses for Kane to feed off.

Speaking of Kane, some honest conversations are needed. If he is fit, stick with him. He’s too good not to come good. If he is struggling physically, then even the captain is not undroppable.

Steve Madeley

(Top photos: Getty Images)

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