Six big issues Gareth Southgate must resolve before Euro 2024

Harry Maguire of England during the international friendly match between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium on March 23, 2024 in London, England
Harry Maguire has been a good Southgate servant but playing him carries risks - Getty Images/Marc Atkins

England will be among the favourites come the start of Euro 2024 this summer but defeat to Brazil at Wembley on Saturday did expose some fragilities that Gareth Southgate must look to address.

Here are six problem areas where England still need to find answers before their first match against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen on June 16.

The left-back dilemma

And it is a dilemma. Gareth Southgate talked up Ben Chilwell’s performance against Brazil but, also, described Luke Shaw as “world-class”. Problem is the Manchester United defender may not play again until the end of the season. With squads reduced back to 23 – from 26 – for the Euros, can Southgate afford to take a player who is not fully fit? He has also admitted Shaw is unlikely to be able to play all seven games if England go all the way to the final.

England's Ben Chilwell reacts during the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Saturday March 23, 2024.
Ben Chilwell's poor display on Saturday leaves Southgate with a headache - PA/Mike Egerton

The solution may well be to move Kieran Trippier over from the right-side given he will go to the tournament as Kyle Walker’s under-study. That also helps in ensuring there is a place for Trent Alexander-Arnold in the squad, even if he is used in midfield. Southgate may look to Joe Gomez who has played left-back, impressively, for Liverpool. There is no easy answer with Shaw out. But can he risk him?

Harry Maguire re-opens the centre-half debate

The Manchester United defender spoke confidently – and convincingly – about how well he has played for England during tournaments before the Brazil game, even when he has been out of his club side. Maguire’s performances at finals and the statistics back him up… and then he makes a terrible mistake from which Raphinha should have scored. It is the kind of unforced error that if it is repeated in Germany this summer could see England out of the tournament.

Who to partner John Stones is a problem especially with Lewis Dunk then being at fault for Brazil’s goal when he came on. It will be Maguire but it is an undeniable issue that he does not face stronger competition for his place.

Marc Guehi is injured, Levi Colwill is also absent and Southgate is clearly unconvinced by Fikayo Tomori. Jarrad Branthwaite is uncapped but should feature against Belgium while Southgate was certainly impressed by Ezri Konsa when he came on against Brazil, at right-back, and talked up the importance of his versatility.

Who partners Declan Rice?

Even more pressing an issue than who plays alongside John Stones is who will partner Declan Rice. Conor Gallagher played against Brazil and did alright, Jordan Henderson is expected to feature against Belgium but is struggling and Kalvin Phillips is deservedly out of the squad.

It is interesting how frustrated Gareth Southgate is at not being able to give Trent Alexander-Arnold a run of games in midfield. For this one, though, the answer is obvious. There is a specialist in the squad. Although he is only 18 – until next month – and has so far played just 15 minutes for his country, it is already time to trust in Kobbie Mainoo.

Kobbie Mainoo of England runs with the ball during the international friendly match between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium on March 23, 2024 in London, England
Kobbie Mainoo could be the answer to England's midfield problems - Getty Images/Michael Regan

Put it this way, if a Premier League team was being selected right now on form, who would be picked as Rice’s partner? It would be Mainoo and we know he has the temperament – doing well in a patchy Manchester United team – and ability to thrive in what is now an experienced England side.

The left-side of the attack

It looks like Gareth Southgate is favouring a 4-2-3-1 formation for Germany with three players behind the main striker. We know that Jude Bellingham will play in the middle of those three, as a number 10, and that Bukayo Saka will feature on the right. But on the left?

England have an abundance of talent: Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and now also Anthony Gordon. And yet no-one has nailed down their place. It feels like sacrilege not to include Foden, who has played most of his Premier League minutes on the left but was on the right against Brazil. However, he did not continue his club form at Wembley and was a disappointment. England need to unlock him.

Both Rashford and Grealish have had frustrating campaigns and while Gordon did well against Brazil it was only his first cap and can he really be selected ahead of those other three?

The Harry Kane team

For all the talk of how important Jude Bellingham is to England – and he is – they still remain the Harry Kane team. It is undeniable. England are just not the same without their captain and, sadly, so far Ollie Watkins has just not taken his chance to be a convincing deputy. It is all the more disappointing given Watkins’ outstanding form for Aston Villa.

And so, against Belgium, Southgate will turn to Ivan Toney and he talked up the Brentford striker’s “swagger” as one of his characteristics. Toney does not lack confidence and is maybe more similar to Kane than Watkins. But, again, it is a big ask for him to come in for his first start and stake a claim. Rashford would be a solution but never looks at home through the middle.

England's Ivan Toney during a training session at St. George's Park, Burton Upon Trent
Ivan Toney has the chance to stake his claim to be Harry Kane's primary backup - PA Wire/Mike Egerton

Kane is world-class and world-class players are obviously never easy to replace but England are far weaker without him.

Getting the best formation

There is one approach that Southgate has not tried yet and the fact he has not got the players available to make it work – because of injury and maybe also form – means it is currently a non-runner. But indulge me here.

Personally, I would like England to go into the tournament in a 4-1-4-1 formation, changing into 3-2-4-1 after kick-off and replicating Manchester City. The key to this is the defence with John Stones stepping forward into midfield. It would need Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw either side of a centre-half, at present Harry Maguire.

Maguire’s lack of pace is an obvious problem as he is just not as quick as those City centre-halves. Then I would have Declan Rice in the Rodri role and a four behind Harry Kane. This would be Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden – either more centrally or on the left - and if on the left then James Maddison could play more centrally.

If Foden is in the middle then Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford or Anthony Gordon can play left. It also might help give Cole Palmer a chance. But the big flaw in my idea remains that defence.