Southgate’s Six English Riddles: The Alexander-Arnold Puzzle and Will Wharton Make It?

Southgate’s Six English Riddles: The Alexander-Arnold Puzzle and Will Wharton Make It?

Gareth Southgate has the ideal 26 players in mind to take to Euro 2024, but that could change depending on injuries as he needs to balance his squad.

Here are his dilemmas ahead of the deadline (midnight on Friday) to submit his final selection to UEFA. England also play Iceland at Wembley that evening.

The Trent Puzzle

Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates his goal against BosniaTrent Alexander-Arnold celebrates his goal against Bosnia

Trent Alexander-Arnold started in central midfield and then played at right back when the changes were made in the second half. Southgate says he can use him in either position. Now that Ezri Konsa can also play as a wing-back, this provides cover for Kyle Walker, who will be in the starting line-up.

“Could be both,” said Southgate, when asked about Alexander-Arnold’s position. “In a game like this we felt there would be more space where his quality as a wing-back could help us. Against a full-back system that could be useful, and in midfield, he is still learning and discovering the role. So positionally it will be different for him sometimes, but sometimes you saw moments of quality with his passing. The smoother the steps, the longer the steps. So both positions are very important to us.”

Young cubs among the Three Lions

Adam Wharton in action for EnglandAdam Wharton in action for England
Adam Wharton impressed with his composure on his England debut – Getty Images/Michael Regan

Adam Wharton looked at home in an England shirt as he came off the bench for his debut. His transition from the base of midfield was over twenty years ago and the way he conducted himself on the pitch is not at all that of a rookie. Southgate has referred to the fact that England do not have a player who can “see pictures early” when or before he receives the ball. There’s definitely a whiff of Michael Carrick about him.

Southgate was open about where young players such as Wharton, Curtis Jones, Jarell Quansah, Jarrad Branthwaite and Wharton lined up in his squad ahead of the game against Bosnia. “We have some young players who I spoke to at the beginning and said, ‘Look, we don’t know how this is going to turn out, but let the starting point be that this should be a great experience for you. Come train with us. Chances are you won’t come all the way with us,” he said.

Wharton certainly has a bright future in England, even if he doesn’t get on a plane this time. “There’s no doubt he impressed us,” Southgate said. “Every time we call up a new player, other players always doubt what we are doing and think we don’t know what we are doing. Then they work with these young people and they say, ‘Okay, now we see why’.”

Left back cover

Kieran Trippier talks to Luke ShawKieran Trippier talks to Luke Shaw

Luke Shaw has been out since February with a hamstring injury, but has done everything he can to be part of the squad. He opted to do part of his recovery with England in March when he could have been working elsewhere or benefiting from warm-weather rehabilitation. .

Southgate is positive about his progress and says: “He has a good chance”. He has been working out on grass this week – instead of in the gym – but has not trained with the team. But even if Shaw is fit for the tournament, he could still miss the opening match against Serbia and cover will be needed. Kieran Trippier is ready to start on June 16. Others who can play at left back are valuable assets, including Konsa who played part of the second half against Bosnia there on Monday evening.

Joe Gomez’s return to England after almost four years away was largely down to his ability to play across the back line. Because Shaw had doubts, these players came to the reckoning,

No 10s

Cole Palmer scores from the spot against BosniaCole Palmer scores from the spot against Bosnia
Cole Palmer scores from the spot against Bosnia – Getty Images/James Gill

After the season he had, Jude Bellingham is England’s first No. 10; Southgate’s most attacking midfielder plays behind Harry Kane or even runs in front of him when the captain comes deep to get the ball. The Champions League winner with Real Madrid has been given a week off to be psychologically and physically ready for the tournament.

Cole Palmer has cemented his place in the squad with his performances throughout the season and also with his penalty against Bosnia.

At the post-match press conference, Southgate was asked how important penalties could be in the tournament – shootouts are always at the back of his mind. Palmer started at number 10 in his first start for England, with James Maddison coming off the bench in the second half.

Does Southgate need Bellingham, Palmer and Maddison? The England manager also has Conor Gallagher, who he named afterwards as an important, mature game against Bosnia. Gallagher played deeper, but can play further forward, as he did for Chelsea this season.

How many attackers?

Ollie Watkins fails to find the back of the net against BosniaOllie Watkins fails to find the back of the net against Bosnia
Ollie Watkins (right) failed to find the back of the net against Bosnia – AP/Scott Heppell

The good news has gone under the radar this week. Kane has been training at full speed after a few days away from a meeting with England, where he was doing the final parts of his recovery after a blow to his back. He was ruled out of the last two games of the Bundesliga season, but was able to come off the bench against Bosnia and score his 63rd international goal.

Ollie Watkins had started the match and had a good chance when he was put through on goal by Palmer before getting his head into the end of a couple of corners that went towards goal. He has generally been quiet, but the number of goals and assists for Aston Villa this season has staked a strong claim to be Kane’s back-up.

Ivan Toney was not used at St James’ Park and he failed to find the net for Brentford after the last international break when he scored a penalty against Belgium. Southgate must decide whether two back-up strikers are needed. If all goes to plan and England beat Serbia and Denmark, the backup striker could start in the final group match against Slovenia.

Abundance of wingers

Jack Grealish in action against BosniaJack Grealish in action against Bosnia
Jack Grealish came off the bench against Bosnia – Getty Images/Matt McNulty

Although Southgate does not currently have fully fit left-backs at his disposal, he has plenty of attacking options. The players left out of the matchday squad for the match against Bosnia included Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka, both of whom are pushing for a start against Serbia, and Anthony Gordon, who impressed Southgate during the March internationals.

Before the match, Southgate offered no guarantees that Jack Grealish would be in his last 26, but the Manchester City forward came off the bench to provide an assist for Alexander-Arnold and was involved in Kane’s goal. Jarrod Bowen has put in a solid performance and his 20-goal season makes him a strong candidate to join the squad.

Eberechi Eze did his chances no harm with the way he started against Bosnia, with Southgate impressed with the way he took on players and said he floated past opponents.

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