England at Euro 2024: What's Happened So Far?

Published on 26 June 2024 at 16:00

You'd be hard pressed to find someone who hasn't been disillusioned by the start England have made to Euro 2024 despite the Three Lions topping their group. Even as an ardent Southgate apologist myself, it's been a struggle to really get behind the team; I find myself mindlessly uttering that old phrase of "It's Coming Home" more out of routine than true belief.


But what has happened for the Three Lions thus far, and where does it leave them?

The Fixtures


England (as per usual under Gareth Southgate) managed to secure a favourable group stage draw for this tournament and, from the outside looking in, one could conclude that the aims had been met. However, whilst that is technically true in the points tally, the performances have been less than impressive. 


Across the three games thus far it could certainly be argued that England have only played consistently well at the start of the opening fixture vs Serbia, leading to a 13th minute header from the irresistible (and he was just that in this game) Jude Bellingham. However, from then on it's been pretty drab for the Three Lions.


Against Denmark Southgate's men scored early once more thanks to left back Victor Kristiansen falling asleep, allowing Kyle Walker to pounce and find Harry Kane unmarked in the box. But yet again, England dropped back, found themselves completely stifled and this time conceded to a brilliant strike from Sporting's Morten Hjulmand. Then for the remainder of the 90 England could barely string a pass together stirring much concern from fans and pundits alike.


And that brings us to Slovenia last night where, despite major calls for change, Southgate opted to just bring in Conor Gallagher for Trent Alexander-Arnold. This had little effect and despite a relatively bright Phil Foden (by his England standards at least) the Three Lions failed to break down a stubborn Slovenian outfit to scrape their fifth point of the group stages. somehow topping the table with just two goals scored.


Clearly an underwhelming first phase, but enough to take England through to the Last 16. So what has been discussed most around the Three Lions?

the lacklustre Left


Kieran Trippier in England training

Kieran Trippier in England training


In this country, over the past 14 years, we've been used to a somewhat lacklustre left-wing allowing the diabolically destructive right to flourish. Well unfortunately with the Three Lions only the first half of that has been consistently true at Euro 2024. 


Luke Shaw, England's only consistency capped natural left-back is injured and has been virtually all season, understandably prompting questions as to why Southgate opted against bringing a second left-footed full back. In his place Newcastle's Kieran Trippier is plugging the gap much in the way a square peg would a round hole, with the former Atletico Madrid man almost completely reliant on his right foot.


Add to this the elusive Phil Foden who spends a fair bit of time doing a reverse Natalie Elphicke by drifting from left to right in an attempt to get involved, and suddenly the left flank is somewhat deserted.


All of this makes the reluctance to give Anthony Gordon some game time somewhat more confusing. Thus far the Newcastle man has played six minutes of football at Euro 2024 but has looked bright, positive and actually played a brilliant pass to help create England's best chance against Slovenia.


In my mind, if Shaw still isn't fit (which seems likely) Gordon has to start next time out even if it means dropping one of Foden or Bellingham lest we want to repeat the age old mistake of shoe-horning in all of our most talented players irrespective of the system. 

The midfield conundrum


The midfield issue was typified by the England manager himself, who has been on record lamenting the lack of Manchester City's Kalvin Phillips to help break up play and free Declan Rice to operate in a more box-to-box role, sparking uproar amongst the fan base.


This has led to a bit of experimentation in midfield (Southgate has admitted) with Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold starting in the middle against both Serbia and Denmark before being dropped for Chelsea's Conor Gallagher vs Slovenia.


Neither of these have particularly worked, with Alexander-Arnold (who's not used to being pressed from so many different angles in his natural position) a bit of a liability in position and Gallagher offering little but energy and passion. Whilst these are good traits to have from a midfielder, against a Slovenia side that looked to sit back in a low block and frustrate he seemed a slightly odd choice, with the midfielders in this scenario more required to link play and break the lines with a powerful run or brilliant pass.


That's where starlet Kobbie Mainoo or Crystal Palace's Adam Wharton come in, with both excelling in not only keeping the ball but actually progressing it. Whilst we've yet to the latter, Mainoo got his first minutes of the tournament against Slovenia, coming on at half-time and immediately looking a more natural fit than Declan Rice's two previous partners. 


The United man provided his typical mix of technique, work-rate and maturity well beyond his years to help provide a bit more balance in the midfield and stake a claim as to why he should start going forward in this tournament.

THe pressing problem


Perhaps the biggest issue for England is the lack of a concerted, coordinated press.


Pressing to modern football is what breathing is to humans, essential. However, unlike breathing, England's pressing patterns aren't second nature.

In fact so far, England seem to have more press restrictions than the Soviet Union during the Cold War, causing their opposition to be able to condense the pitch and force the Three Lions to go backwards (admittedly something they also tend to do of their own volition).


Whilst this was slightly improved vs Slovenia, with Kane tending to be a bit more involved than he was against the Danes, it still felt a bit disjointed. But could this perhaps be a style choice that will benefit England against a more progressive side?


England struggle to break down a low block, that much has become abundantly clear across the previous 270 odd minutes of football at this tournament, but against a team that looks to break them down they actually may function more effectively, preferring to win the ball back in midfield and defensive zones to spring a quick counter against an exposed team. 

Perhaps that could offer a glimmer of hope for disillusioned Three Lions fans.

Cole Palmer - solution or just more questions?


There has certainly been a lot of discourse on social media regarding the lack of minutes for Chelsea star Cole Palmer after his remarkable breakthrough season following a £42.5m switch from Manchester City in the summer. However, despite the brilliance of the 22 year old, I personally don’t see him solving any of the aforementioned issues.


Now that’s not to say I don’t think he should be involved at all, in fact considering his ability to be a game changer and shine in a dysfunctional environment I think he could be the perfect super-sub to test tired legs and commit defenders for the last half an hour or so in an attempt to unlock the opposition.


But calls for him to start over Bukayo Saka make little sense to me considering the Arsenal man has been one of England’s more consistent attacking sparks (admittedly not a particularly difficult task considering the blunt nature of the forward line thus far). 


Palmer, much like the previously mentioned Gordon and Mainoo, got his first minutes at the tournament off the bench against Slovenia and did look bright, most notably producing a brilliant piece of skill to win a free kick in a dangerous position and being well positioned to take England's best chance of the night (even if he did only manage to strike the body of goalkeeper Jan Oblak).


Whilst I don't believe he changed the game, Palmer deserves more minutes going forward for me because, as we've seen all season long, the Manchester born forward has the ability to put a team on his back and do what's needed. However, I stand by the argument that he does not immediately fix the side as some seem to be suggesting. 

But what have you thought about England so far? As always make sure to let us know and check out our pre-tournament golden boot predictions here.




Ben Watts

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