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The Debate
  1. Football
  2. Euro 2024

The Debate: Who should start for England against Slovenia?

England will qualify from their Euros group and are 1/7 to do so as winners, yet the noises made by fans after their first two games could have you thinking they were on the brink of elimination.

But unfortunately, that's how disappointing the Three Lions have been so far. Beating Panama 6-1 or Iran 6-2 isn't how you win tournaments, but it gives players and fans a lift, whereas right now the mood in the England camp must be pretty low.

It's easy to read things on social media, put two and two together and get five, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that Kobbie Mainoo was expressing some dissent when posting a picture of himself and Cole Palmer sitting on the bench looking distinctly unimpressed against Denmark.

It's unlikely to do his chances of getting a start against Slovenia much good, but something has to change for England, be it in terms of personnel or tactics, and the bet365 News team have had their say ahead of England's final group game on Tuesday.

Pickford, Alexander-Arnold, Stones, Guehi, Trippier, Mainoo, Rice, Saka, Bellingham, Gordon, Kane

It’s fair to say Trent Alexander-Arnold hasn’t looked fully at home in the centre of midfield for England, but his skill set remains, and you’ll see the best from him at his natural position at right-back.

People – fairly – question his defensive capabilities (though Kyle Walker typically seems to get a free pass, despite not being the strongest defender himself), but if England played on the front foot like they did against Serbia in the first half, they don’t need Alexander-Arnold to spend 90 minutes defending; they need him operating where and how he does for Liverpool.

His range of passing is the best in the England squad and it’s an attribute that should not be overlooked. One of the issues England have had is that Alexander-Arnold hasn’t had the runners to find. Think of when he’s playing for Liverpool and he can spray passes to Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Luis Diaz – he’s not doing that to Harry Kane or Phil Foden, yet Alexander-Arnold created the most chances for England despite being hooked shortly after half-time.

The decision to take Alexander-Arnold off against Denmark made sense considering his and the team’s performance; the decision to then introduce a more willing runner in Ollie Watkins didn’t. Gareth Southgate brought someone on who could stretch the Denmark defence, but took off the players who could find him. As a result, Watkins had a measly six touches in his 20 minutes, working out at 27 touches over a full 90 minutes.

Of course this creates a fresh hole in midfield, but the obvious solution is the right one. Kobbie Mainoo could play 100 times for England in his career. We’ve all now seen what he’s capable of, and despite an underwhelming performance in a pre-tournament friendly with Iceland, he’s the most suitable midfield partner for Declan Rice. You can’t dwell on his performance against Iceland if you’re not going to remember just how good he was on his debut against Brazil.

Anthony Gordon is also long overdue a start for England. The Newcastle man should’ve started against Denmark and should start against Slovenia as the only left-winger in the England squad. He’s been criminally underused so far, yet to see a minute of football in Germany.

Gordon was fantastic for Newcastle last season, terrorising right-backs up and down the country, and while Foden is clearly the superior footballer, his desire to drift inside, especially while Luke Shaw is injured and the right-footed Kieran Trippier is at left-back, is causing England problems.

Gordon can provide width and pace and will run at defenders and it’s something England are missing.

So bad have things been so far for England there have even been questions over Kane’s place in the team, but we’d see more from him with different players around, and dropping someone with Kane’s goalscoring ability isn’t an option. Kane’s tendency to drop deep doesn’t have to be a problem if there are legs ahead of him, and Gordon provides that.

Southgate has all the right notes at his disposal – he just needs to start playing them in the right order.

Pickford, Alexander-Arnold, Stones, Guehi, Trippier, Rice, Wharton, Saka, Foden, Palmer, Kane

Four points from two matches is far from a disaster, but the balance and makeup of the starting line-up in those opening two matches has looked extraordinarily wrong.

Now is not the time to be experimenting with Trent Alexander-Arnold as a holding midfielder, and Gareth Southgate has got to hold his hands up and acknowledge that he has got that call wrong. Look, am I a fan of the Liverpool man? Absolutely, but not in this role, and certainly not in this role on a stage as big as this.

That said, I actually understand the England manager’s thinking behind the call.

Presumably, he would have expected his side to have been dominating possession of the ball far more than we have, and he certainly would have expected Trent to have been able to orchestrate things from a tad higher up the pitch than he has been able to.

But that hasn’t happened, as, for long parts, our backs have been up against the wall – something that has simply got to change if we are to have any chance of fulfilling our promise out in Germany.  

But how does that change? Well that’s the million dollar question right now. You can make a case for any of the midfielders in the squad to be handed a start against Slovenia on Tuesday, at Alexander-Arnold’s expense.

Coincidentally, I’d actually still start TAA at right-back, just to give Kyle Walker, who has had another long season, a bit of a breather. He will be absolutely key to our success in the knockout rounds, so it makes sense to rest him.

With regards to the midfield vacancy, well Kobbie Mainoo and Conor Gallagher will rightly have their backers, but, for me, I’d be throwing the wildcard right into the mix, Adam Wharton. The Crystal Palace star is clearly somebody who can rise to the challenge; the very fact that just six months ago he was plying his trade in the Championship provides proof of that.

His cameo, on his international debut against Bosnia earlier this month, was superb. He oozed composure, calmness and positivity; and we need some of that, together with his energy, right now. Wharton is clearly the real deal, and I just think that, with our progression already pretty much guaranteed, this is the opportune time for Southgate to hand the care-free and positive 20-year-old his big opportunity.

Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane should retain their starting roles for me, whilst Cole Palmer comes in on the left flank - just ousting Anthony Gordon, who I feel will be a stronger option against the better sides on the break.

That leaves Southgate with the big call of deciding which of Jude Bellingham or Phil Foden to go with in that number 10 role; which is the position that I truly believe will make or break our tournament.

I actually thought that from an attacking point of view, Foden was the pick of the bunch against Denmark, but only when he drifted inside to his more customary central role. He hit the post after manoeuvring space for himself in the second half, whilst his mazy run early on very nearly culminated in a goal too.

He’s arguably been the standout player in English football this season too, so for the love of god, just put him back into the role that he relishes most. It’s not rocket-science, is it!

Of course, that would mean dropping Bellingham – the boy wonder. A huge call I know, but one that I would be willing to take at this moment in time. We have seen in the past what has happened when England managers have tried to shoe-horn all of the big names into the XI, it’s rarely been rewarded with success.

Southgate has got to make a couple of huge decisions in the next few days that will determine both our destiny and his legacy.

For him, and for us, I sincerely hope he gets them right.

Pickford, Walker, Stones, Guehi, Trippier, Mainoo, Rice, Gallagher, Palmer, Bowen, Watkins

“We are struggling to find a replacement for Kalvin Phillips.” The instantly infamous quote uttered by Gareth Southgate in the wake of England’s tedious draw with Denmark looks to have signaled the end of the Trent Alexander-Arnold midfield experiment.

When you are being unfavourably compared to someone who couldn’t get minutes in West Ham’s midfield at the end of the season, it’s unlikely you’re doing a good enough job at a major international tournament.

Alexander-Arnold, for all his qualities as a full back, looks lost in midfield. Serbia and Denmark dominated the midfield battle as the Liverpool man looked to struggle with the pressing and positioning required to compete against opposition he is supposed to be superior to.

Conor Gallagher was introduced nine minutes into the second half as Southgate seemed to call time on Alexander-Arnold in midfield, and I expect Gallagher to retain his place against Slovenia.

Harry Kane may have scored the opening goal for England last night but the skipper also played a huge part in the Danes' equalising goal.

What the England captain was doing at left-back when he sprayed a hospital pass across the pitch I’m not quite sure, the issue of positioning is the main reason I believe Southgate needs to rotate.

We all know Kane has a tendency to drop deep in an attempt to influence play, but his lack of pace and movement is giving defenders an easy time. His lack of pressing from the front contributes to England dropping deeper and deeper in matches.

Two touches in the opposition penalty area for Kane so far at Euro 2024 - Ollie Watkins achieved that in his 30-minute cameo against Denmark, and the Villa man should be given the opportunity to stretch the Slovenian defence on Tuesday.

Jude Bellingham was the star performer against Serbia, but he looked tired against Denmark. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a fabulous season in Madrid but also a grueling one, and the Champions League final was less than three weeks ago. If we want Bellingham at his best for the knockout rounds, I believe he should be rested now.

If we can’t beat Slovenia without Jude Bellingham then it’s probably time to pack it in.

We have an abundance of attacking talent, operating at the highest level for their club sides, it’s time for Southgate to trust in the squad he has flown over to Germany.

I would like to see some of our star players rested, Bellingham, Kane, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka will all be important against better opposition, so let’s rest them ahead of the Round of 16.

Kobbie Mainoo, Jarrod Bowen, Conor Gallagher and Ollie Watkins have all been given minutes in the opening two matches and they should be given the chance to impress from the start.

It’s surely past time for Cole Palmer to strut his stuff too. The fact that one of the best players in the Premier League this season hasn’t had a minute of Euro 2024 action so far is crazy. Palmer scores goals, let's get him on the pitch.

Pickford, Walker, Stones, Guehi, Trippier, Rice, Wharton, Saka, Foden, Gordon, Kane

My fellow colleagues have analysed the situation perfectly and I, personally, would make two changes.

The first would be to give Jude Bellingham a reprieve, and the second would see an actual central midfielder deployed alongside Declan Rice in the double pivot.

I sympathise with Trent Alexander-Arnold dearly. He's a wonderful footballer who has the misfortune of having his position occupied by the Premier League's greatest right-back.

On paper, having a player with his vision and precision pulling the strings in midfield would be perfect. Ultimately, playing in central midfield is an entirely different ball game to being deployed at full-back.

For one, when Alexander-Arnold opens up and receives the ball on the flank, he can see the whole picture. He's aware of his surroundings without having to scan considerably. It's far easier than facing your own goal, constantly checking your shoulders for a pressing opponent and having the composure to evade them if necessary.

Not many players have that ability, which is what makes Adam Wharton so special.

He can receive the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and retain possession under pressure. He can drive the team forward with a gliding run. He can control England's tempo like he's messing with a volume dial.

He may have only experienced four months in the Premier League, but he's good enough.

Having Wharton perform in that role provides Rice with the freedom to drive forward. The Arsenal midfielder is at his most effective when making lung-busting runs into opposition territory, not loitering in his own half like a wounded animal.

I would retain the same back five for the sole reason of familiarity. Building up minutes together is key, especially for the latter stages of the tournament.

Yes, Kieran Trippier is not a left-back, but it's unlikely Gareth Southgate will utilise anyone else in that position until Luke Shaw is deemed fit, whenever that may be.

And then there's the attacking situation. Bellingham I would spare for this encounter - not because of arrogance, but his exertions need to be managed.

That in turn would enable us to catch a glimpse of what Phil Foden can deliver in the No.10 role and whether he can formulate a productive partnership with Harry Kane.

With Kane starting and his tendency to involve himself in the build-up play, you need runners and there's no one better than Anthony Gordon. He's quick, loves to get in behind and if both him and Bukayo Saka can stretch the Slovenian defence, it will benefit Kane's impact on the game.

I would love to see Cole Palmer given a workout. He has the tools to unlock opposition defences and it's mystifying that he saw no involvement in the Denmark stalemate.

There is also the issue of how Slovenia set-up under Matjaž Kek. They're likely to adopt a low block, but they still need a win to secure qualification.

A more daring Slovenian outfit would certainly work in England's favour.

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