Five Euro 2024 questions Southgate needs answers to for England vs Bosnia and Iceland

Will Ford
Watkins Mainoo Southgate
Ollie Watkins? Kobbie Mainoo? Gareth Southgate has some England decisions to make.

There’s less than two weeks left of the footballing gooch between the end of the Premier League and the start of Euro 2024 and we’ve got a couple of England friendlies to tide us over, after which Gareth Southgate needs to whittle his 33-man training squad down to 26 for the tournament proper.

In order to do that he could do with answers to these five questions against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday and Iceland on Friday.

 

Ollie Watkins or Ivan Toney?
It would seem absurd for anyone who’s watched the Premier League this season to suggest that Toney is even in with a chance of being The Harry Kane Back-up ahead of Ollie Watkins. A goal contribution every 100 minutes for Watkins and every 242 minutes for Toney makes for a stark and compelling comparison.

The Aston Villa star made our Premier League team of the season ahead of Erling Haaland, while Toney’s return from his betting ban had far from the desired effect for Brentford, who relied more on Bryan Mbuemo than the man whose summer price tag has dropped from £80m to £40m on the back of his mediocrity.

But Southgate has previously heralded Toney’s “swagger and self-belief”, possibly in reference to his extraordinary record from the penalty spot – a huge plus point for whoever’s in that reserve role as they are unlikely, barring injury, to have any role to play in games that matter other than when they come down to a shoot-out.

Toney has scored 30 of his 32 penalties, including one for England against Belgium in March, while Watkins has missed five of his nine.

 

Is Kobbie Mainoo up to it?
In theory, a midfield trio of Mainoo, Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham looks and sounds brilliant. It’s the most technically gifted three, and in our dreams of European Championship glory, it’s them passing the ball around a finally knackered N’Golo Kante in the final. Our dreams don’t stretch to Rice-Bellingham-Phil Foden – we may be dreaming, but we still know who the manager is.

And Southgate will probably play safe and snub Mainoo in favour of Conor Gallagher, who is also a very good footballer, if not as good at the fancy-pants bits of football as Mainoo. Crucially, and perhaps unlike his teenage competition for the third midfield spot, Gallagher isn’t going to fail to track a runner, get drawn out of position or waver to any great degree from his manager’s directives. He’s a safe pair of boots.

READ MORE: 16 Conclusions on England’s Euro 2024 squad: Rashford, Henderson, alarming defensive gaps, absurd attacking strength

 

Is Luke Shaw fit?
Major tournament experience deservedly earned Shaw a spot in the squad, and even if he’s off his game in both or either of the friendlies he’ll almost certainly be going to Germany as the only left-footed left-back. The question for Southgate is whether he goes with Shaw to start the tournament or one of the right-footers – probably Kieran Trippier – instead.

Shaw’s not played since mid-February and has started just 15 games all season, so there will likely be a lack of match sharpness at the very least. But Trippier has also very recently had a significant spell on the sidelines, while Joe Gomez – who’s been called up on the back of his excellent performances for Liverpool during a left-back crisis in the middle of the season, and thanks to his ability to play anywhere across the backline – doesn’t provide the forward impetus or delivery of the other options.

There will be a left-back limitation for England no matter who starts that opening game against Serbia.

 

Where does Phil Foden play?
Assuming Bukayo Saka starts on the right because he’s brilliant and that’s the only position he ever plays, the only remaining options for Foden are on the left or in the middle behind Kane. The middle would obviously be Foden’s preference, but he’s got Bellingham – Champions League winner and La Liga Player of the Season – as an imposing barrier to him starting in that No.10 role.

Southgate’s pragmatism, and we’re inclined to agree with him by the way, likely rules out Bellingham and Rice as two No.8s behind Foden, which means the left is the only spot for the Premier League Player of the Season. It’s tough having so many unbelievably talented footballers who have to play. Not even mentioned Cole Palmer, FFS.

 

Who’s the next centre-back?
It will be John Stones and Harry Maguire as the starting pair, with everyone now seemingly agreed that Maguire is actually quite good at football and is an immovable presence in the never-done-anything-wrong-for-England camp now mercifully featuring just the better of the two Jordans.

It’s an interesting tussle for ascendency behind those two though. Marc Guehi was the next cab off the rank for a while but his injury in the second half of the season has maybe given Jarrad Branthwaite or Ezri Konsa the edge. It could well be a horses for courses situation for Southgate, but he can’t take all of the options with him to Germany, and could do with taking a look at various partnerships in the upcoming friendlies.