Eberechi Eze takes England chance as Gareth Southgate faces Euros conundrum

On the plane? Eberechi Eze was arguably England’s best player against Bosnia and Herzegovina (Getty Images)
On the plane? Eberechi Eze was arguably England’s best player against Bosnia and Herzegovina (Getty Images)

In a week in which Gareth Southgate faces twin objectives - namely sculpting his first-choice Euro 2024 team and trimming his provisional squad of 33 to 26 - this was an evening explicitly geared towards the latter.

Of the XI picked to start this 3-0 friendly win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, the first of two warm-ups before England fly to Germany, only goalkeeper Jordan Pickford could be sure of a starting place for the opening group game against Serbia in just under a fortnight’s time, with plenty of the rest uncertain as to whether or not they might be on their summer holidays by then.

Southgate, though, had insisted that this was not a trial in itself, suggesting the makeup of his ideal squad is already fairly clear in his mind, injury not withstanding.

That may be just as well: having decided against giving debuts to any of the five uncapped players in his squad from the start, this did not have the feel of an evening on which any of the outsiders and hopefuls dramatically moved the dial.

The exception was Eberechi Eze. Winning his third cap, and first from the start, the Crystal Palace spark was England’s brightest player in an otherwise unremarkable first half, a picture of fearless ease in defiance of the personal stakes.

At one stage earlier this season, the cruel timing of a hamstring injury looked to have polished off his chance of emerging as a Euros bolter, but a stunning end to the season under Oliver Glasner’s inspired Eagles changed the game.

The transition of that club form onto the international stage here was slick, as were the series of shimmies and feints that left numerous Bosnian defenders scrambling. At one stage, after four had been beaten in a thrilling burst from deep, it took a rash fifth to halt the drive.

Grealish and Maddison state their case

Eze’s performance - not to mention selection in the first place - appeared bad news for both James Maddison and Jack Grealish, who each finished the club season in poor form and at least one of whom may have to be axed.

Moments after Cole Palmer had given England the lead, both he and Eze were withdrawn, and Maddison and Grealish sent on for auditions that suddenly felt a little more urgent.

Maddison hurried to close down Bosnian goalkeeper Nikola Vasilj and urged team-mates to take quick throws. Grealish burst inside to combine with fellow substitute Harry Kane, desperate to prove himself still more than the sanitised recycler some say he has come to resemble in Manchester City blue.

Gareth Southgate has plenty of decisions to make with England’s midfield options for Euro 2024 (The FA via Getty Images)
Gareth Southgate has plenty of decisions to make with England’s midfield options for Euro 2024 (The FA via Getty Images)

Had Maddison not slipped at the crucial moment, they would have combined for an England second late on.

Instead, Grealish turned his provision elsewhere, chipping nicely to the far post for Trent Alexander-Arnold to score the clincher on the volley, before Maddison played his part in the build-up to Kane’s third. Given only half an hour apiece to impress, neither could have done a great deal more.

Alexander-Arnold experiment remains inconclusive

Of those more confident of a squad place but hovering only on the fringes of the XI, Ollie Watkins made dangerous runs in behind without showing the lethal touch that might have cemented him ahead of Ivan Toney as Kane’s deputy.

Marc Guehi had some good moments at centre-back, but some hairy ones, too, when a pristine performance was probably needed to offer serious chance of displacing a fully-fit Harry Maguire.

Palmer, on full debut, was bright, scoring the VAR-awarded penalty that put England ahead just after the hour - but was this enough to convince Southgate that he must shuffle his pack to find a way of squeezing the Chelsea man into the same team as Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden?

And then there was the latest stage of the Trent Alexander-Arnold midfield experiment, which, with time running out, still feels short of a conclusion.

The Liverpool man played some clever, incisive passes as England upped the tempo at the start of the second half and his cross-field switch will be more of a weapon if England can get a natural left-back in Luke Shaw fit again.

Without Declan Rice alongside, though, and without better opposition to contain, the defensive feasibility of a midfield that includes Alexander-Arnold at its base remains an unknown. His goal came after being returned to a more familiar post at right-back.

Rice and as many of his first-choice team-mates as Southgate deems ready will return to the XI when Iceland come to Wembley on Friday night, after which the picture will at last be made clear.