Six big problems Gareth Southgate must solve before Euro 2024

Harry Maguire has been a good servant to Southgate, but playing him comes with risks – Getty Images/Marc Atkins

England will be among the favorites at the start of Euro 2024 this summer, but the defeat to Brazil at Wembley on Saturday has exposed some vulnerabilities that Gareth Southgate must look to address.

Here are six problem areas where England still need to find answers before their first match against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.

The left-back dilemma

And it is a dilemma. Gareth Southgate spoke about Ben Chilwell’s performance against Brazil, but also described Luke Shaw as “world class”. The problem is that the Manchester United defender will not be allowed to play again until the end of the season. With the number of squads reduced from 26 to 23 for the Euros, can Southgate afford to take on a player who is not fully fit? He has also admitted that Shaw is unlikely to be able to play all seven matches if England go all the way to the final.

England's Ben Chilwell reacts during the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium in London.  Date of photo: Saturday March 23, 2024.England's Ben Chilwell reacts during the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium in London.  Date of photo: Saturday March 23, 2024.

Ben Chillwell’s poor performance on Saturday leaves Southgate with a headache – PA/Mike Egerton

The solution could be to move Kieran Trippier from the right side as he will go into the tournament as Kyle Walker’s substitute. This also ensures that there is a place for Trent Alexander-Arnold in the selection, even if he is deployed in midfield. Southgate could look to Joe Gomez, who has played impressively at left-back for Liverpool. With Shaw gone, there is no easy answer. But can he risk it?

Harry Maguire reopens the centre-back debate

The Manchester United defender spoke confidently – and persuasively – about how well he has played for England in tournaments leading up to the match against Brazil, even when not playing for his club. Maguire’s performance in the final and the statistics back him up… and then he makes a terrible mistake from which Raphinha should have scored. It’s the kind of unforced error that could take England out of the tournament if it is repeated in Germany this summer.

Who should be John Stones’ partner is an issue, especially as Lewis Dunk was at fault for Brazil’s goal when he came on. It will be Maguire, but there’s no denying he doesn’t face stiffer competition for his place.

Marc Guehi is injured, Levi Colwill is also absent and Southgate is clearly not convinced about Fikayo Tomori. Jarrad Branthwaite is uncapped but should play against Belgium, while Southgate was certainly impressed by Ezri Konsa when he came on at right-back against Brazil and discussed the importance of his versatility.

An even more pressing issue than who will play alongside John Stones is who will partner Declan Rice. Conor Gallagher played against Brazil and did well, Jordan Henderson is expected to feature against Belgium but is struggling and Kalvin Phillips is deservedly left out of the squad.

It’s interesting how frustrated Gareth Southgate is at not being able to give Trent Alexander-Arnold a run of games in midfield. For this one, though, the answer is obvious. There is a specialist in the team. Although he is only 18 – until next month – and has only played 15 minutes for his country so far, the time has already come to rely on Kobbie Mainoo.

Kobbie Mainoo of England runs with the ball during the international friendly match between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium on March 23, 2024 in London, EnglandKobbie Mainoo of England runs with the ball during the international friendly match between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium on March 23, 2024 in London, England

Kobbie Mainoo could be the answer to England’s midfield problems – Getty Images/Michael Regan

Put it this way: if a Premier League team were to be selected now based on form, who would be picked as Rice’s partner? It would be Mainoo and we know he has the temperament – ​​doing well in a patchy Manchester United team – and the ability to thrive in what is now an experienced England side.

The left side of the attack

It appears that Gareth Southgate prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation for Germany with three players behind the main striker. We know that Jude Bellingham will play in the middle of those three, as number 10, and that Bukayo Saka will appear on the right. But on the left?

England have talent in abundance: Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and now Anthony Gordon. And yet no one has secured his place. It feels like sacrilege not to include Foden, who played most of his Premier League minutes on the left but played on the right against Brazil. However, he did not continue his club form at Wembley and was a disappointment. England need to unlock it.

Both Rashford and Grealish have had frustrating campaigns and although Gordon did well against Brazil, it was only his first cap and can he really be selected ahead of the other three?

The Harry Kane team

For all the talk about how important Jude Bellingham is to England – and he is – they are still the Harry Kane team. It is undeniable. England simply aren’t the same without their captain and unfortunately Ollie Watkins has not taken his chance to become a convincing deputy so far. It is all the more disappointing given Watkins’ excellent form for Aston Villa.

And so, Southgate will turn to Ivan Toney against Belgium, citing the Brentford striker’s ‘swagger’ as one of his hallmarks. Toney doesn’t lack confidence and is perhaps more like Kane than Watkins. But again, it’s a big ask for him to come in and stake a claim for his first start. Rashford would be a solution, but never looks home through the middle.

England's Ivan Toney during training at St. George's Park, Burton Upon TrentEngland's Ivan Toney during training at St. George's Park, Burton Upon Trent

Ivan Toney has chance to stake his claim as Harry Kane’s primary backup – PA Wire/Mike Egerton

Kane is world class and world class players are obviously never easy to replace, but England are much weaker without him.

Getting the best formation

There is one approach Southgate hasn’t tried yet and the fact he doesn’t have the players to make it work – due to injury and perhaps also form – means he is currently a non-runner. But humor me here.

Personally, I would like England to go into the tournament in a 4-1-4-1 formation, changing to 3-2-4-1 after kick-off and emulating Manchester City. The key to this is the defense, with John Stones stepping forward in midfield. Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw are needed either side of a centre-back, currently Harry Maguire.

Maguire’s lack of pace is an obvious problem as he is simply not as quick as City’s centre-halves. Then I would have Declan Rice in Rodri’s role and a four behind Harry Kane. This would be Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden – centrally or on the left – and if he were on the left, James Maddison could play more centrally.

If Foden is in the centre, Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford or Anthony Gordon could play on the left. It could also give Cole Palmer a chance. But the big flaw in my idea remains that defense.

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