England at Euro 2024: Harry Kane and Phil Foden among concerns for Gareth Southgate ahead of Denmark test

England started their Euro 2024 campaign with a 1-0 victory over Serbia on Sunday; Jude Bellingham impressed but question marks remain over the fitness of Harry Kane and how to get the best out of Phil Foden; Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett analyses the issues facing Gareth Southgate

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Sky Sports’ Rob Dorsett discusses the selection issues ahead of England’s next game against Denmark

Declan Rice told me he felt England’s opening win over Serbia was the archetypal “game of two halves”. He was right.

England’s total dominance in the first half contrasted with their disjointed and lacklustre second half. And so, understandably, there are a host of positives and negatives that Gareth Southgate will be reflecting on in the coming days.

The key issue now for the England manager is addressing the negatives in time for the second Group C game against Denmark on Thursday.

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The positives: Brilliant Bellingham and a clean sheet

Firstly, England won their opening game of the Euros, as they have done in each of the three other major tournaments in which Southgate has been in charge.

That should not be overlooked, or taken for granted. In fact, Southgate’s record bucks the trend of history: the win in Gelsenkirchen was only the second time in nine attempts England have won their first match at a Euros.

That gives the team a massive boost, it gives momentum and now – with the expanded tournament – it makes it almost impossible for England to fail to qualify for the knockout stages. One more point from two more games would almost certainly do it.

Image: Bellingham's 13th-minute goal was the difference for Gareth Southgate's side

Secondly, Jude Bellingham. Jude Bellingham did what Jude Bellingham does – grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and demanded he be the lead actor in the spectacle.

Much has been said of his influence, and his importance, already. We shall devote no more column inches here to England’s best and most important player – except to say that Southgate will hope he continues in the vein in which he started.

Thirdly, England kept a clean sheet. Something they’d only done twice in their previous seven internationals. And in the absence of Harry Maguire, and with Luke Shaw still injured, there were real concerns about the defence.

There still are, for me, but England’s back-line did manage to ultimately repel the formidable front two of Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic. Albeit with some good fortune at times, and with thanks to a couple of excellent saves from Jordan Pickford.

Image: Marc Guehi impressed alongside John Stones in defence for England

The way that Serbia’s front pairing was marshalled by Marc Guehi – playing his first game at a major tournament – was the fourth huge plus.

The Crystal Palace man started the game with 41 straight passes completed, and ended the game with a 96 per cent completion rate. Wow. Euros debuts don’t get much better than that. He looked composed and confident. Exactly what Southgate ordered.

Fifthly, there were no new injury concerns. Kieran Trippier told me after the game that his problem in the game was cramp-related, but he said he was pleased to feel it because he needed the game time.

That leads me to my sixth positive – there were vital minutes for many England players who have come into this tournament desperately undercooked.

Trippier, Harry Kane, John Stones – all got the full 90 minutes. Bukayo Saka got 75. That can only help their sharpness for the matches to come.

But that is where the positives end, and this is where the negatives start kicking in…

The negatives: Struggling Kane and Foden mystery

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Rob Dorsett gives greater insight into Harry Kane’s recovery from his back injury and what it could mean for England at the Euros

Firstly, captain Kane looks miles away from full fitness, hard as he might be trying in games, and on the training pitch. At the moment, it feels like more competitive minutes might not be enough to get England’s talisman fully firing.

Forty-nine goals in 52 games this season is an extraordinary record. But the final three matches of the domestic season – which he missed because of a back injury – seem just as significant as the previous 52.

At the Arena AufSchalke, Kane touched the ball just once, before we got into injury time at the end of the first half. It is true that, but for a brilliant save by Predrag Rajkovic in the second half, he would have opened his Euro account with a towering header. But that effort aside, he has rarely – if ever – been so anonymous.

Likewise Phil Foden – negative number two. The Premier League player of the season, who acts as a conductor to the orchestra of football that is Manchester City, can’t seem to get a tune out of his England team-mates.

Sure, he isn’t playing in his favourite position of number 10. He won’t, so long as Bellingham remains in this form. But even when he has played there for England recently, as he did in the warm-up games, he has struggled.

More often, he is stuck out on the left wing, with Southgate encouraging him to drift in, find space, and influence the game. He wasn’t able to do that at all against Serbia. And how you solve a problem like Phil Foden is becoming a real pain in the England manager’s neck.

Thirdly, for a squad that I feel is the envy of every other nation at this tournament for attacking talent, there was a worrying lack of creativity against Serbia. England had only five shots on goal in the whole 90 minutes. Serbia managed six.

Collectively, their 11 efforts were the lowest on record in a Euros match since the format began in 1980; the worst of 322 other matches.

But I would argue that problem was caused by England’s fourth negative. England couldn’t allow their creative players to thrive, because they didn’t have control of midfield, in the second half.

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Gary Neville questions the balance in the England midfield following the 1-0 win over Serbia and whether Trent Alexander-Arnold could be the man to play alongside Declan Rice

How Trent Alexander-Arnold is used in the team is key. Southgate says he has spent the last 12 months teaching him the art of the central defensive midfielder – a position unnatural to him when he plays for Liverpool.

His array of passing was there for all to see early in the game, but as England faded, Alexander-Arnold was more exposed.

He does not innately understand positionally where he needs to be when England are out of possession. Should he really be learning his trade in a European Championship?

Only when Conor Gallagher came on did England’s midfield look more secure, and their pressing game began to bear fruit. Before then, it was all too common to see Bellingham’s arms raised in frustration, as he pressed the ball, only to find none of his team-mates doing the same.

Gallagher to start? The changes Southgate might consider

Southgate doesn’t have much time to address these issues before Thursday’s meeting with Denmark in Frankfurt. In fact, just two full training sessions – that is how quickly these Euros games come along.

I’ve hinted at some of the changes he might be thinking about already: Gallagher into the middle of midfield in place of Alexander-Arnold. Kane to be replaced earlier in the second half, to give Ollie Watkins or Ivan Toney a first run at a major tournament.

In truth, while Kane will almost certainly start the match, I doubt on current fitness he can complete two lots of 90 minutes in the space of four days.

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Paul Merson admits he was ‘bored’ by large parts of England’s performance in their Euro 2024 opener against Serbia

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The other interesting conundrum for Southgate is his wide attacking options, and whether he might dare to drop Foden. It would be a brave and controversial call. But with the goal-scoring prowess, and goal-creating inventiveness of both Cole Palmer and Ebere Eze chomping at the bit, it may be the most pragmatic decision right now.

The good news about Luke Shaw’s progress on the training pitch and in the treatment room might also force Southgate’s hand in making another tweak.

There is absolutely no criticism of Kieran Trippier if we suggest that the England boss would prefer to see Shaw line up at left-back.

Trippier has been outstanding for his country for so long, his versatility admirable. But England are too often, too narrow. That is why Southgate has tended to play the left-footed Foden on the left wing rather than on the right wing, where he has consistently played for City this season.

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Michael Dawson discusses how England fans need to remain positive despite an underwhelming performance in their opening Euro 2024 match against Serbia

England lack natural width – with each of Foden, Saka, Palmer and Eze preferring to cut inside, off the flank. Shaw is a left-footed left-back, which not only helps when he is attacked on the outside by an opposing winger, but it also helps England progress the ball up the left flank.

He may well, in part, be a solution to Foden’s problems too, if he can offer more natural support while playing higher up the pitch.

There is no panic for Southgate or England. They – like all of the other big guns in this tournament – have made a winning start. But the Three Lions are far from their roaring best right now.

In truth, the show they are putting on is a bit flat. It has been panned by many of the critics. They need some clever guidance from their circus master if they are to be considered realistic trophy contenders.

Sourse: skysports.com

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