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Five key issues England boss Southgate must solve before Euro 2024

Five key issues England boss Southgate must solve before Euro 2024

England’s lap of appreciation around Wembley at the end of another embarrassment against Iceland lost a lot of its impact because there was hardly a soul left in the stadium to appreciate.

Instead of being sent on their way to Euro 2024 with a fanfare, England’s laboured and uninspired display in a shock 1-0 loss to the side ranked 72nd in the world earned them the equivalent of a resounding raspberry.

This was not in the plan – but neither was the sort of performance that manager Gareth Southgate would have wanted with the opening game against Serbia only eight days away, warm-up friendly or not.

It was a game that threw up many issues for Southgate as the clock ticks down to the start of the serious action in Gelsenkirchen.

Bellingham must be England’s focal point

England’s build-up to Euro 2024 has been accompanied by the debate of getting Manchester City’s Phil Foden into the central position where he was so outstanding with 27 goals for his club this season, rather than out wide where he has figured for his country.

Foden played in the number 10 role against Iceland and strangely, for a player such ambition and creation, played it too safe at times.

He must start, of course, against Serbia but it is more likely to be in that wide position in a team built around the new Champions League winner with Real Madrid, Jude Bellingham.

Bellingham will join the squad for Germany after some rest following that stunning conclusion to a stellar first season in Spain and will carry so much of England’s hopes.

He is central to England’s chances – something that was emphasised even more by this dismal display in his absence against Iceland.

Who starts alongside Rice?

This is the big question for Southgate in the week ahead and one where all the contenders for a place alongside Arsenal’s midfield man still have claims.

Declan Rice’s partnership with Kobbie Mainoo looked too conservative here, Manchester United’s teenager also caught out of position for Iceland’s goal scored by Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson.

It was a good night for Crystal Palace’s gifted 20-year-old Adam Wharton, who has impressed Southgate so much and created such an impact with his cameo in the win against Bosnia-Herzegovina at St James’ Park on Monday.

This horrible England display will have done Wharton no harm as he was sitting on the bench.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold would be the most ambitious pick alongside Rice, utilising his creative skills and range of passing to give England an added attacking dimension. He came on at Wembley to create moments of danger, playing at right-back after replacing Kyle Walker.

It is a thorny problem for Southgate to solve. And he has a few after this troubling night.

Has Palmer done enough to oust Saka?

Chelsea’s Cole Palmer has forced his way into contention and into the conversation about whether he could start at Euro 2024 with a stellar season at Stamford Bridge following his £40m move from Manchester City.

Palmer’s goal in the win against Bosnia on Monday means he has scored in the Premier League, FA Cup, Carabao Cup, Uefa Super Cup, Community Shield and on the international stage this season.

He showed in flashes here exactly why he is a live contender for a starting place, particularly with a first-half delivery which ended with an uncharacteristic miss by captain Harry Kane.

The question remains whether Palmer has done enough to unseat Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, Southgate’s choice on the right flank in recent times for England.

It is a nice decision for any manager to have to make but the odds must still be on Saka starting given how he has delivered for England in the past.

England’s rusty stars a big issue

Southgate must have held his breath as key defender John Stones lay on the Wembley turf early on after an Iceland player fell on his ankle, a problem which eventually saw him replaced by Ezri Konsa at half-time.

With his long-time central defensive partner Harry Maguire ruled out of Euro 2024 with injury, the last thing Southgate and his vulnerable rearguard need is a problem for a player on who much will rest in Germany.

Stones actually could have done better for Iceland’s goal but there was an element of rust about his performance, and that of a number of Southgate’s stalwarts, that means they looked short of the sort of match sharpness they will need against Serbia.

He has only played 15 game and 1,073 minutes for Manchester City in 2024 and could have done with playing 90 untroubled minutes here to hone that fitness.

Instead, Southgate will be hoping the knock he took is not serious for a player who has had his share of injuries. Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi looks a probable starter against Serbia. Southgate will pray Stones is alongside him.

Kieran Trippier also looked off the pace at left-back, a position which is still something of a headache for Southgate with Luke Shaw making progress having not have played since early February.

Trippier is 34 in September and has suffered with injuries and loss of form this season. He has played only 13 games and 931 minutes for his club this year – and it showed. If he is to start at left-back against Serbia, it will still be with question marks against his name.

England suffer problems at both ends

Where was England’s threat? Quite the question given England had Kane, Foden, Anthony Gordon and Palmer in their starting line-up but a perfectly valid one.

England had one shot on target and rarely put the well-organised Iceland defence under sustained pressure. There was no sense of siege as time ran out.

It was a problem England have encountered before against a mass, well-drilled defence and Iceland were in no mood to be unlocked at Wembley.

As if this was not enough on a very sobering night for England, this was no smash-and-grab raid by Iceland. This was a deserved win and they could have had more goals.

The ease with which Iceland were able to cut through England’s midfield and also catch them on the break was worrying. If Iceland can do it then England’s Euro 2024 opponents will be greatly encouraged.

Thornsteinsson made a mess of an open goal, a chance easier than the one he scored, and Sverrir Ingason should have scored with a header he directed straight at Aaron Ramsdale, who also had to do better with Iceland’s winner.

This was only a curtain raiser for the main action – but it was a performance that will not send England off to Germany in good heart.


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