Who will start for England? Gareth Southgate’s selection dilemmas for Slovakia clash

Who will start for England? Gareth Southgate’s selection dilemmas for Slovakia clash

Gareth Southgate has been heavily criticised throughout England’s Euro 2024 group games.

Despite topping Group C and setting up a last-16 clash with Slovakia in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday, fans, pundits and former players have questioned Southgate’s tactics and starting line-ups.

Here, we look at the selection dilemmas the England manager faces heading into the knockout stage in Germany.

A Shaw thing at left-back?

Luke Shaw and Kieran Trippier are England’s two main options at left-back (PA Wire)

Southgate opted to select Luke Shaw as the only natural left-back in his 26-man squad, that despite the fact the Manchester United defender has not played since a hamstring injury in February.

Shaw is now back training with the rest of his teammates and his return could be timely, especially with fitness concerns over Kieran Trippier, who has been filling in on the left side of defence despite being right-footed.

If neither can face Slovakia, Southgate will have to choose between Joe Gomez and Ezri Konsa to fill the gap or move Kyle Walker across from right-back. He could even take the radical step of dropping Bukayo Saka out of his attack and into a position he has not operated in for years.

The middle man

Kobbie Mainoo impressed in his sub appearance against Slovenia (PA Wire)

Following the 1-1 draw with Denmark in Frankfurt, Southgate bemoaned the fact he had been unable to find a replacement for Kalvin Phillips, who played so well alongside Declan Rice in recent years.

Rice remains a mainstay of the England midfield but selecting the right partner for Arsenal’s £105m club-record signing has seen Southgate trial a number of options across the group stage.

Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was the first to be given a go, only to be substituted off in the first two games as Southgate admitted the “experiment” may not have worked out.

Conor Gallagher, who replaced Alexander-Arnold in those two fixtures, started against Slovenia but was hauled off at half-time for Kobbie Mainoo, the Manchester United man slotting in seamlessly to give his chances of a first competitive England start a huge boost.

Forward thinking

Jude Bellingham has begun to drift out of games for England (AP)

LaLiga player of the season: Jude Bellingham. Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year: Phil Foden. Saka: 16 goals and nine assists in the Premier League last season.

Those three individuals would be the envy of most international managers looking to pick a forward line, yet Southgate has so far been unable to dovetail their undoubted talents to deliver for England.

Instead, there have been calls in some quarters for one, two or all three to be dropped against Slovakia, especially after the exciting tournament debut of Cole Palmer off the bench last time out.

The pace and directness of Anthony Gordon is another option available to Southgate, who has also looked at Eberechi Eze and Jarrod Bowen at different stages of the tournament in an attempt to find the right combination to unlock England’s wealth of attacking talent.

Is Kane able?

It would seem almost illogical for Southgate to even consider dropping his captain, talisman and England’s all-time leading goalscorer – but Harry Kane has struggled so far at Euro 2024.

The Bayern Munich striker has one goal to his name but his performances have seen him on the periphery of games and his want to drop into a number 10 role has only further muddied the waters around the Bellingham and Foden situation.

Ollie Watkins had a brief cameo in the Denmark draw and looked lively, getting in behind the defence with some clever runs and, with 19 Premier League goals to his name last season, the Aston Villa forward knows where the back of the net is. Could he get a start against Slovakia? It is highly unlikely but Southgate does have that option, with Brentford’s Ivan Toney also waiting in the wings.

Source: independent.co.uk