England team vs Slovakia: Our writers pick their XIs for Euro 2024 match

Gareth Southgate and his assistant coach Steve Holland at England training
Gareth Southgate is expected to resist calls for wholesale changes - Getty Images/Adrian Dennis

England face Slovakia in the last 16 of Euro 2024 but despite safe progression from the group stages there are calls for Gareth Southgate to ring the changes.

Three underwhelming performances against Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia raised questions about England’s credentials as potential tournament winners, although they appear to have landed on the more favourable side of the draw.

While England have looked assured defensively, their attack has appeared clunky and unbalanced despite an abundance of individual talent.

Kobbie Mainoo, Cole Palmer and Anthony Gordon impressed in substitute appearances against Slovenia and there is a lot of support for keeping them in the side as starters.

This is how our writers would set England up.

I feel a change of shape may jolt England into action. Cole Palmer deserves to start and I would be tempted to put him in ahead of Phil Foden. It is a close call but he can also make a big impact from the bench. I prefer Kobbie Mainoo as an eight rather than a six and would ask him to get forward more than Declan Rice. The biggest change is to a three-at-the-back and also asking Bukayo Saka to switch from right to left and play wing-back. He has done it before but it is another experiment.

This is about as buccaneering as I can see Gareth Southgate being in the circumstances. With the one highlight of England’s group phase their resolute defence, it would seem foolish to disrupt the balance with a half-fit Luke Shaw who has spent 4½ months on the sidelines. But Kobbie Mainoo should start, having offered a refreshing contrast to the over-exuberant Conor Gallagher with his composure against Slovenia. Phil Foden simply has to operate in his favoured No 10 role, which means sacrificing Jude Bellingham, who looks in desperate need of a rest. Cole Palmer exudes verve and confidence, qualities that this team have sorely lacked so far.

No chance that it goes this way, but even so - it would change the dynamic. It would be helpful to get away from the notion that being left out of the starting XI is the end of the world. Everyone accepts that England have a multitude of attacking talent and not all of them are in-form at the same time. Let’s give this a try and there are plenty more who can come off the bench if things are still not clicking after an hour. The absence of a left footed left back is a problem that Southgate can’t currently solve. He would hope that he can give Luke Shaw some minutes and also others like Ivan Toney who haven’t featured yet.

Slovakia will sit deep, so why not start with two strikers? Harry Kane looks like he needs help and Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham look like they need a rest. Kobbie Mainoo, Cole Palmer and Anthony Gordon all did well enough as substitutes against Slovenia to justify starting the last-16 game. Kieran Trippier has been managing a slight calf issue and didn’t train on Thursday, so give Joe Gomez a go.

Jude Bellingham has been in an advanced role and I would have him up top with a freedom to roam and impact the game where he wants. Luke Shaw returning from injury gives the team balance and this formation is not far off from the 4-1-4-1 that started against Slovenia. Just a little more attacking.

Arsenal supporters on social media reacted furiously to Ian Wright’s suggestion that Bukayo Saka could play left-back for England. Those fans did not realise, it seems, that such a suggestion is effectively a compliment to Saka. How many other top-class right-wingers can also be trusted to play as a full-back on the other side? Saka can, even if it has been a little while since he played there for Arsenal.

England are in desperate need of width on the left flank and the use of Kieran Trippier at left-back simply must stop. I would also include Anthony Gordon, at the expense of Phil Foden, to further stretch the Slovakian defence.

Jude Bellingham has had two poor games in succession but it would still be ludicrous to drop a player of his ability, while there is also the old adage of playing people back into form. Cole Palmer’s eagerly awaited appearance in the Slovenia game means he has to start here. Harry Kane has been average but, like Bellingham, there’s no real point in resting him now that England are at the business end. Gareth Southgate has to find a way of utilising Phil Foden as more of a No 10. If Luke Shaw is fit, he also has to start.

Mainoo will be included because of his second half performance. Southgate may be stubborn and persist with Bellingham and Foden in the same line-up, but the first three games demonstrated why it should be one or the other. Gordon’s pace would add a new dimension. Despite the clamour for Palmer, dropping Saka would be crazy on many levels. Palmer is a good bench option when required.

Mainoo because his introduction against Slovenia seemed to remind his team-mates that pressing and off-the-ball aggression are worth trying. Palmer to bring some unsullied enthusiasm to a flagging attack. Gordon as the modern-day Jason Wilcox / Steve Guppy / Andy Hinchcliffe: the solution to England’s left-sided problem. Harsh on Foden but could be daunting for Slovakia to see him and Bellingham come on if England need help with 20 minutes left.

It would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago to drop Jude Bellingham but he looks shattered and his body language hasn’t been great either in the last couple of games. This would enable Foden to move into the middle. Palmer has to start after his exciting cameo and I’ve been calling for Gordon on the left since the tournament began. His pace will worry sides and he plays with Trippier at club level. Mainoo looked good alongside Rice in the last game.