Ranked: All of Gareth Southgate’s England subs at Euro 2024, from the pointless to the Ollie Watkins

Steven Chicken
Gareth Southgate telling Ollie Watkins to score a goal
Gareth Southgate telling Ollie Watkins to score a goal

There had been a great deal of talk about England’s substitutions before the semi-final. There will still be a great deal of talk about England’s substitutions after the semi-final, just now with a rather different tone.

The reality is that substitutions very rarely make the difference people seem to expect, but then, every now and then, you bring on Ollie Watkins and Cole Palmer with 10 minutes left of a tight and tense semi-final and the rest is history.

Here then, is our frazzled attempt to rank every Southgate substitution throughout England’s brave march to the European Championship final.

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Pointless and/or ineffective

14. Kobbie Mainoo for Jude Bellingham (vs Serbia, 86 minutes); Trent Alexander-Arnold for Kieran Trippier (vs Slovenia, 84 minutes); Anthony Gordon for Phil Foden (vs Slovenia, 89 minutes); Conor Gallagher for Kobbie Mainoo (vs Netherlands, 90+2 minutes); Ezri Konsa for Bukayo Saka (vs Netherlands, 90+2 minutes)

We’re lumping these in together as they’re all too short to really judge, which is arguably an issue in itself. What exactly was the purpose of these switches, and what did they actually achieve – particularly the two in the Slovenia game, where qualification was already in the bag? Could those players not have got an actual chance to actually do something meaningful that might have told us something about them? We shall never know for sure.

The flurry of substitutions after Ollie Watkins’ goal against the Netherlands did at least make us chuckle.

 

13. Conor Gallagher for Trent Alexander Arnold (vs Serbia, 69 minutes) and Conor Gallagher for Trent Alexander Arnold (vs Denmark, 54 minutes)

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. And again. And then try the same thing a third time, this time from the start, before finally giving up and correctly turning to Manchester United’s breakthrough star Kobbie Mainoo instead, as you should have done in the first place.

We like Southgate more than most, but this was not even ‘obvious in hindsight’ – it was clear from the start that if Alexander-Arnold didn’t work, Mainoo was the man. What is this enduring fascination with Conor Gallagher? We just don’t know.

 

12. Jarrod Bowen, Eberechi Eze and Ollie Watkins for Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Harry Kane (vs Denmark, 69-70 minutes)

Oh, yeah, Jarrod Bowen has played a bit at the Euros, hasn’t he?

This triple substitution felt more like sending a message to a front three who had underperformed throughout the Denmark game, but their replacements didn’t really fare any better up top: England managed just a single shot after Southgate’s shuffle of the pack. We’ve not seen Bowen since, which tells its own story. And whatever did become of Ollie Watkins?

11. Jarrod Bowen for Bukayo Saka (vs Serbia, 76 minutes)

We remember absolutely nothing about Bowen’s 14 minutes plus stoppage time on the pitch other than the faint memory of him putting a cross or two in the box, one of which Kane hit the bar from. But hey, at least it wasn’t outright bad. Hooray?

 

Right idea, alright results (aka ‘perfectly normal substitutions’)

10. Cole Palmer for Kieran Trippier (vs Slovakia, 66 minutes)

Far from the move that changed the game for England in their comeback victory in the round of 16; in fact, England did little to nothing until further changes were forthcoming.

But it was a step in the right direction as Southgate finally recognised the need to switch things up after spending over an hour watching his side banging their heads against a brick wall, with Saka re-deployed to left-back and Palmer taking over on the right wing.

READ NEXTEngland player ratings v Slovakia: Bellingham and Kane poor but decisive as Walker struggles

 

9. Conor Gallagher and Ezri Konsa for Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham (vs Slovakia, 106 minutes)

Helped shore things up against an increasingly desperate Slovakia, gave Konsa some important minutes knowing he would be needed against Switzerland with Marc Guehi suspended, and gave a rest to two key players who had nothing left to give. Fine.

 

8. Eberechi Eze for Kobbie Mainoo (vs Slovakia, 84 minutes)

Opinion remains divided on Eze, but he did play a part in Kane’s winner in the first minute of extra time and his ability to carry the ball out of defence from wing-back helped relieve some of the pressure. Again, we must stress, we are very much in ‘fine’ territory here.

 

7. Luke Shaw for Kieran Trippier (vs Netherlands, 46 minutes)

A presumably pre-planned and very obvious change based on how many minutes Southgate and his team felt they could wring out of Shaw. Didn’t quite have the impact that might have been expected given how England’s general first-half performance contrasted with Trippier’s miserable struggle on the left, but was slightly undone by the wily Dutch and their use of ‘tactics’ to make life ‘harder’ for England in the second half than it had been in the first. You guys. But there were still moments when the benefits of having a left-footed player on the left were clear and the plan/hope must surely now be that Shaw is ready to start the final.

 

6. Luke Shaw, Eberechi Eze and Cole Palmer for Ezri Konsa, Kobbie Mainoo and Harry Kane (vs Switzerland, 106 minutes)

We’re still not yet into ‘quite good, actually’ territory based on what it actually achieved: England didn’t have a shot in that second period of extra time, while Switzerland provided a couple of scares in return.

But it did accomplish two things: it repeated the trick Southgate had pulled with Konsa in the previous game, allowing Shaw to get some minutes under his belt, and it got Palmer on the pitch to take the first penalty.

 

5. Cole Palmer for Bukayo Saka (vs Slovenia, 71 minutes)

We would like to reiterate that the pundits’ gushing praise for Palmer in this outing was vastly overstated.

The best footage ITV could find to support their assertion that he should definitely, definitely start because he’s brilliant and amazing included a routine ten-yard pass, a cross to nobody in particular that was cleared, and a rubbish shot straight at the keeper with the opposite corner gaping (having already established that Palmer was the wrong pass to begin with while praising Mainoo’s overlapping run through the middle). We dare say you’re doing your pundits no favours with your attempts at cherry-picking to support their preconceived notions.

Still…the Chelsea lad was alright in his major tournament debut, which is absolutely grand in a complete dead rubber of a game, and England did look better for his presence, even if his own individual execution was a bit lacking.

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Actually good

4. Ivan Toney for Harry Kane (vs Switzerland, 109 minutes) and Trent Alexander-Arnold for Phil Foden (vs Switzerland, 115 minutes)

Would you have backed Kane to score in the shoot-out? Yes, but no more so than Toney, and we really can’t overstate how off the pace Kane had looked throughout the game, even before his tumble in the technical area.

TAA, meanwhile, was put on expressly to take and score that crucial fifth penalty, which he did. Mission accomplished.

 

3. Kobbie Mainoo for Conor Gallagher (vs Slovenia, 46 minutes)

If you’re looking for a ‘see, this is what it should be in the knockouts’ substitution from the Slovenia game, we divert your attention away from Palmer and instead to Mainoo’s first proper minutes of the summer after he came on at half time.

Has he been world-beating? No. But Mainoo has looked the most fitting partner for Rice, outstripping ‘just round around a bit’ Gallagher and ‘not a midfielder (yet)’ Alexander-Arnold by some distance. What took so long?

 

2. Ivan Toney for Phil Foden (vs Slovakia, 90+3 minutes)

Came on at 1-0 down, set up the winner with a smart header across the box, did a more convincing job than any of England’s other strikers at making the ball stick when it was played to him in a bid to get the ball away from their own half in extra-time. Good job, Ivan.

 

Critic-silencing elite

1. Cole Palmer and Ollie Watkins for Harry Kane and Phil Foden (vs Netherlands, 80 minutes)

Yeah, fair enough. Those are very good substitutions. It looks easy in hindsight, but while Watkins’ pace and ability to stretch a weary defence were without doubt the right call it would have been all too easy to go with Toney given his greater contribution to the team’s efforts thus far, and while bringing Palmer on was a no-brainer it was not entirely obvious at the time that Foden was the right man to replace.

But now after that pass and that touch and that finish and those celebrations it’s impossible to imagine any other way it could possibly have been done. Well done, Gareth. And also well done Cole and Ollie, we guess.