Southgate's Selection Headache: England's Options Make Them Contenders In 2024

England showed their strength with a massive win over North Macedonia
10:00, 21 Jun 2023

Phil Foden has to start. You can’t leave Jack Grealish out. Marcus Rashford is undroppable. Bukayo Saka is England’s star boy. Trent Alexander-Arnold is flourishing in midfield. How about James Maddison, Ebere Eze and Jude Bellingham? 

If Gareth Southgate picked a team based on social media, he’d have to list 17 players in the starting XI, and every single attacker who has played in the Premier League over the last three years. The England manager has an impossible job in terms of pleasing those fans, but it's a role that he can relish with less than 12 months to go until the Euros begin.

The 7-0 win over North Macedonia was a showcase of the Three Lions’ attacking talent as they handed the opposition their heaviest ever defeat. With captain Harry Kane extending his lead as the greatest goalscorer this country has ever had, it leaves two wide starting positions available, as well as two spots in midfield alongside Declan Rice. 

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In the modern game with five substitutes, who starts in those roles isn’t actually that important in big games, as England will have options to change the game from the bench. If Grealish’s dribbling ability isn’t working, Rashford’s pace might. If Saka isn’t firing, Foden could make an impact. These attacking options will keep things fresh for England in Germany next summer, with Southgate’s options looking stronger than ever as they cruise through qualification.

Intriguingly, England aren’t afforded the same level of luxury in the defensive positions, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Their starting XI against North Macedonia had the second highest number of caps of any England team, yet unlike the more experienced 2010 outfit that played against Algeria, the line-up didn’t feel sluggish or stale. 

Instead, reading out the team sheet was strangely comforting. Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Rice. You know exactly what they can do in an England shirt, and Southgate does as well. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel given they’ve proven time and time again to be capable for their country, and reliable in big matches.

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Reece James could come in for Walker depending on how the next year pans out and Maguire needs more football, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see these same five walk out for England’s opener in Germany. There aren’t that many competitors for their positions. Shaw has barely any competition at left-back given Ben Chilwell is struggling to stay fit. Stones and Maguire have been so good for England it would be stupid to break up that partnership, especially when you consider the drop-off to Marc Guehi, who looks to be the third option at this moment in time. 

The right-back competition has been widely discussed, but even that has been alleviated slightly with Alexander-Arnold’s move into midfield, a role he is now flourishing in without being exposed defensively. It seems as though the back line practically picks itself, as do Kane and Rice. That leaves four spots for upwards of 10 players. What a problem to have. 

It’s this depth and solidity, as well as past tournament performance, that has made England one of the favourites for Euro 2024. Betfred have priced them as second faves at 11/2, behind only France, to lift their first international trophy since 1966 and go one better than they did two years ago. 

They will face tough competition from the team that knocked them out of the World Cup, the hosts Germany and the newly-crowned Nations League champions Spain, but after the past two tournaments of pain this one could be the one. Southgate’s steering the ship in the right direction, and although you might not agree with every team selection, England’s options have put them on the pathway to success. 

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