Jude Bellingham - England vs Slovenia

The 2024 European Championship has provided a spectacular feast of football amidst the backdrop of beautiful scenes in Germany. 

While Spain, Portugal and tournament hosts Germany are looking like the strongest teams so far, other heavyweights could also improve as the knockout stages begin. France and England fall into the latter bracket and although Les Blues have the pedigree and experience to navigate tight one-off games, the Three Lions are yet to identify their strongest team.

England are in dire need of a statement performance to reinvigorate their hopes after toiling in the Euro 2024 group stage games against Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia. 

They may have secured top spot in Group C but failed to impress in a 1-0 win over Serbia before a dour 1-1 draw against Denmark followed by a stalemate with Slovenia. 

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Gareth Southgate surprisingly opted to start Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield for the first two matches which attracted huge criticism. Change was desperately needed ahead of the final group game against Slovenia but the England manager opted for just the single one as Conor Gallagher came in for Alexander-Arnold in midfield.

There was little sign of any spark in the first half despite Bukayo Saka’s disallowed goal for an offside as England did not register a shot until the 30th minute. They struggled to break down a side 52 places below them in the FIFA rankings and after failing to make any positive impact, Gallagher was taken off at half-time for Kobbie Mainoo.

The Manchester United man heralded a slightly improved display with his crisp passing ability but England did not inspire much confidence as they head into the knockout phase. Fluidity across the centre of the park remains a problem and Declan Rice is missing a midfield partner to enable them to control ball possession. 

There is an obvious lack of connections and creativity from the Three Lions which is disappointing given the amount of talent in the squad. England were booed by their own supporters for the second time in three matches and that underwhelming performance will worry fans in the next rounds. 

One win, two draws and just two goals scored in three matches is enough to confirm first place in a boring Group C that featured five draws from six games, equalling the record lowest for goals scored (seven) in the group phase of a European Championship.

Time for tinkering

England desperately need to show a lot more quality in the attacking areas which is undoubtedly surplus within their ranks. Southgate belatedly rang the changes against Slovenia as Mainoo was brought on while Cole Palmer was given his first minutes of the tournament, the gross result was a better performance from the team as both youngsters got on the ball and looked to drive the team forward.

Bukayo Saka and Cole Palmer

“I thought the boys that came on had a really good impact on the game and we’ve had the discipline to keep a clean sheet, which has ended up meaning we top the group”. Southgate said after the match.

“They [Mainoo and Palmer] are really young players so we’re balancing blooding them in a different environment, but they had a really good impact when they came on and used the ball really well.”

The relentless criticism has forced the manager to look for solutions on his bench and he now has a few decisions to make in their next match. Mainoo offers better balance alongside Rice and one of Palmer or Anthony Gordon must be chosen to solve the lack of synergy in the frontline.

Indeed, Bukayo Saka has offered a threat at times on the right wing but Phil Foden looks less comfortable on the left while Jude Bellingham looks a shadow of his all-action self. This begs the need for either of them to be dropped or reshuffled with Bellingham moving deeper into midfield while Foden occupies the no. 10 position behind Harry Kane. That Could free up a spot for Gordon’s pace in-behind defences or Palmer’s genuine creativity.

The Netherlands are England’s most likely Round of 16 opponents on Sunday and they must get themselves in order quickly. Should they make the Quarterfinal, they will face either Switzerland or defending champions Italy while the list of potential semi-final opponents doesn’t look too daunting either.

The real challenge starts now and they must be ready to face tough questions from opponents during the knockout stage. Although Luke Shaw’s return to full fitness is good news, he will not be ready to start matches having been injured for months.

Hence, Southgate will have sleepless nights over the balance of his midfield and attack as gradual improvements are necessary to see them go all the way in Germany.

Fortunately for them, England have dodged the more difficult half of the draw in the knockout stages where heavyweights such as Germany, Spain, Portugal and France will do battle. 

The Three Lions boss must make bold adjustments to his team as they desperately need to show a lot more and grab their opportunity to reach consecutive Euros finals. 

Football is far from coming home at the time of writing, but there have been several poor starts which ended in triumph at previous major tournaments.

For that to happen, England must do much better, starting from the manager. 


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.


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