England manager must stop putting square pegs in round holes

England manager must stop putting square pegs in round holes
England manager must stop putting square pegs in round holes

England’s status as favourites to win the 2024 European Championship in Germany looked extremely tenuous as they laboured to a 1-0 victory over Serbia on Sunday.

Jude Bellingham’s early goal proved to be the difference between the two sides, but the Three Lions looked anything but potential winners of Euro 2024.

By contrast, strong cases can be made for Germany or Spain to emerge victorious given the manner of their respective victories at the tournament to date.

Central to England’s problems is manager Gareth Southgate, whose lack of tactical acumen continues to be a major Achilles heel for the squad.

Two Newcastle United players were among those who suffered the most as England huffed and puffed against tough Serbian opposition.

Kieran Trippier was selected to start at left-back, with Manchester United’s Luke Shaw not deemed fit enough to start the game after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

The Newcastle star was solid enough defensively, but his reluctance to use his left foot hindered England’s attacking capabilities down the left flank.

Given that Shaw is unlikely to feature until the knockout stage if England make progress, Southgate’s decision not to pick another specialist left-back is baffling.

In the spirit of trying to hammer square pegs into round holes, Southgate doubled down by playing Manchester City’s Phil Foden on the left flank.

With Jude Bellingham a guaranteed starter in Foden’s favoured number ten role, the Man City star was shuffled onto the left-hand side of England’s attack.

The move failed to deliver the desired results, with Foden struggling to get involved in the game and Trippier providing little support to him.

Southgate inexplicably kept Foden on the pitch for the whole game, leaving Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon and Crystal Palace winger Eberechi Eze clicking their heels on the bench.

Either player would be a better option than Foden given they are more comfortable playing in that position. However, Southgate seems incapable of recognising this.

His senseless selections continued elsewhere on the pitch as Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold was handed another chance to show why he is not a midfielder.

England’s supposed ‘best passer’ is not up to the job of playing in the centre of the park, particularly when it comes to controlling the game.

Former Newcastle star Alan Shearer pinpointed the issue as co-commentator on the BBC, imploring Southgate to introduce someone more adept at running proceedings.

A few minutes after Shearer’s comment, Southgate replaced Alexander-Arnold with Conor Gallagher. The Chelsea midfielder is a willing worker, but controlling the tempo is not one of his strengths.

While Gallagher ran around like a headless chicken, the answer to England’s control problems was eagerly hoping Southgate would remember he had included him in the squad.

Adam Wharton has made a rapid rise up the ranks over the past couple of years. He made his mark with Blackburn Rovers in the Championship before signing for Palace in January.

He immediately looked at home in the Premier League and was superb on his England debut in a friendly against Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Wharton’s doubters claim he lacks the experience to play in a major tournament, but that viewpoint ignores the fact that he is a generational talent.

If England are to have any chance of winning Euro 2024, Southgate needs to stop shoehorning players into unfavourable positions.