The Three Lions must learn how to roar againFrank Schwichtenberg / Wikimedia Commons /

Cast your mind back prior to England’s 1-0 loss to Iceland in their last friendly before Euro 2024 and you’d remember a sense of tangible positivity in the nation surrounding England’s chances at the tournament. In a rare occurrence, this belief was not solely based on blind optimism. Any nation which has last season’s Premier League Player of the Season, Bundesliga’s Top Scorer, and La Liga’s Player of the Season were bound to be popular with the bookies for their Euro 2024 chances.

Yet from the moment Jón Dagur Þorsteinsson shocked the Three Lions on June 7, England have looked like a team devoid of any spark or ingenuity. Three abject 90 minutes of football later, England have still found themselves Euro 2024 Group C Winners, and due to a hugely favourable separation of the draw, a real chance of still making this summer one to celebrate. This is a situation Southgate’s England have been in before – slow starts, fortunate knockout routes, and increasingly impressive performances. If history is to repeat itself once more and England are to potentially even go one step further than Euro 2020 (and win the tournament), Southgate must find a way to put some oomph back into England’s attack.

“Southgate must find a way to put some oomph back into England’s attack”

In the modern game especially, all great attacks start in the defence. Defence has undoubtedly been England’s sole strength so far, having only conceded a single goal (a superb long range effort by Denmark’s Morten Hjulmand). There has been one glaring issue, however: Kieran Trippier. England’s left-back woes were well-documented prior to the tournament. Trippier as an inverted full-back restricts England’s ability to build attacks down the left-hand side. Opposing right-backs know there is no threat of a Trippier overlap and too often the Newcastle United defender has halted England’s build-up play by cutting back inside. If we’re brutally honest, it is difficult to see a solution. Luke Shaw’s selection in the squad continues to baffle as his fitness issues persist and any inverted left-back will bring the same issues as Trippier. Interestingly, Southgate did move Kyle Walker there in the last few minutes of the Slovenia game, allowing Trent Alexander-Arnold to slot in at right-back. However, with Alexander-Arnold’s defensive problems so widely acknowledged, it seems unlikely that Southgate will line-up with that combination in the knockouts.

Alexander-Arnold has been central to the debate over England’s set-up at Euro 2024. Starting the first two games in midfield, the ‘Trent Experiment’ now seems to be over. Replacing him against Slovenia was Conor Gallagher, who was hooked after 45 minutes. No matter what questions the England national team have, I’m sorry, but Conor Gallagher will never be the answer. Instead, England need a more calming presence in midfield. It sounds counterintuitive but the Three Lions need a midfielder that nobody *really* notices. England need a midfielder who just keeps the ball moving quickly and simply and provides a balance to dirty work of Declan Rice behind and the powerful carries of the ball brought by Bellingham ahead. I’m a huge advocate of Adam Wharton. Raised in the EFL with Blackburn Rovers, the left-footed Lancastrian has adapted instantly to life at Premier League Crystal Palace. Against Bosnia and Herzegovina, his half-hour cameo sent ‘Twitter Tacticos’ into meltdown, with compilations galore created of his simple-yet-effective style. Whilst Kobbie Mainoo seems Southgate’s preferred choice – a choice I take no real issue with – I do think Wharton could bring a whole new level of synchronicity throughout the team, especially down the already faltering left side.

“England have such quality out wide that there is no excuse to stick with a failing set-up”

The final issue to address is England’s nearly-inexplicable ineffectiveness down the wings. Phil Foden on the left and Bukayo Saka on the right has been England’s set-up for all three games of Euro 2024 so far. Yet the issue with England’s wing-play has been that, especially in the case of Foden, both players have been drifting inside and playing with a fluidity that unfortunately has not given the impression of creative freedom but rather that England simply look lost in attack. Cole Palmer’s introduction against Slovenia brought a marked difference in England’s threat down the right-hand side. The Chelsea forward actually sought to take on Erik Janza down the by-line, rather than look on every occasion to bring the ball back inside. Although Antony Gordon was only afforded five minutes at the end, it was clear with Palmer and Gordon that England looked more threatening. I’m certainly not suggesting dropping both Saka and Foden but with Jude Bellingham playing number ten for Real Madrid, I definitely reject calls to drop him into a more box-to-box role.


Mountain View

Euro 2024: Varsity’s predictions and preview

Therefore, to spruce up the attack, I do think one of Saka/Foden needs to be replaced by Gordon/Palmer. If I were Southgate (and being KCFC social sec was not my sole footballing resumé), I would bring Foden to the right, where he has played at times for Manchester City, drop Saka, and introduce Gordon to the left wing. Gordon’s pace and direct approach is refreshingly different from all of England’s other options. As of writing, Foden has returned home to attend the birth of his third child, although it is hoped he will be ready for Sunday’s match. Whatever change Southgate makes, however, he must do so with the acceptance of making early substitutions if necessary. England have such quality out wide that there is no excuse to stick with a failing set-up.

England’s next game is at 5pm on Sunday 30 June against Slovakia. In Varsity’s pre-tournament predictions, all four Varsity experts predicted England would make it to the semi-finals. To have any chance of doing so, the Three Lions must learn how to roar again.