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Five England talking points ahead of Serbia clash

England begin their European Championship campaign with a Group C clash against Serbia on Sunday evening.

The Three Lions will start as favourites in Gelsenkirchen but there are issues for Gareth Southgate ahead of their opener at Euro 2024.

Here are five talking points ahead of Serbia vs England.

Will Southgate gamble on Luke Shaw fitness?

Gareth Southgate deviated from his usual risk-averse selections this summer, with Luke Shaw included despite a lack of football at Manchester United. England’s first-choice left-back and an impressive performer at recent tournaments, Shaw’s place was in doubt given his last league appearance came in February.

However, the 28-year-old is in the squad and back in training, which is a huge boost for Southgate given the limited left-back options available. Kieran Trippier has deputised of late but has not looked comfortable stationed on his unfavored side. Shaw’s selection for the opener would be a surprise but Southgate will be desperate to get the defender back into his team as soon as possible.

“Everyone is available,” Southgate said during his pre-match press conference on Saturday evening.

“We have a decision whether Luke [Shaw] is a possible to use from the bench or not but everyone has trained today and is available.”

Who partners John Stones at centre-back?

Harry Maguire lost his race against time to be fit for the tournament and the 31-year-old’s omission has opened up a place in the team. Maguire has been a fixture in recent tournaments and was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2020, though Southgate must find a solution at centre-back.

John Stones’ recovery from a knock against Iceland is a relief and Marc Guehi is expected to partner the Manchester City defender. The 23-year-old is well-regarded in the England set-up but has played just 108 minutes of Premier League football since early February due to a knee issue. Ezri Konsa, who has had an excellent season at Aston Villa, Lewis Dunk and Joe Gomez offer alternatives, though that trio have just 25 caps combined.

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Mitrovic could be a menace

England will face a familiar threat this evening in Aleksandar Mitrovic. The ex-Fulham forward is Serbia’s record scorer with 58 goals in 91 appearances for the national team and arrives at Euro 2024 after blasting Al-Hilal to a Saudi Pro League, Kings Cup and Saudi Super Cup treble.

Mitrovic scored 40 goals in 43 appearances for Al-Hilal in 2023-24 and has all the attributes to be a nightmare for England in Gelsenkirchen. England looked vulnerable in the air against Iceland and Mitrovic is a player who could exploit those issues. The 29-year-old led Europe’s top five leagues for aerial duels won (235) in 2018-19 and racked up more than 100 duels won on the same metric last season.

He scored 15 headed goals for Al-Hilal in 2023-24 and will not be Serbia’s only aerial target, with Dusan Vlahovic (6ft 3in), Sergej Milinković-Savić (6ft 4in), Strahinja Pavlović (6ft 4in) and Nikola Milenković (6ft 5in) all set-piece threats.

The midfield dilemma

England’s biggest decision perhaps comes in midfield. Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham are certain to start, but who joins them is unclear. Trent Alexander-Arnold looks likely to start against Serbia but the 25-year-old will do so with a point to prove.

One of England’s better performers in their warm-up friendlies and an elite chance creator, there are reservations over Alexander-Arnold’s tactical experience and defensive discipline in a midfield role.

Having featured in a hybrid right-back role roaming into midfield for Liverpool, it will be fascinating to see how he handles a full-time move into the engine room with England. The best passer in the England squad, the risk is one worth taking.

Elsewhere, Conor Gallagher’s industry is admired, though the 24-year-old is an unimaginative selection, while Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton represent risk of their own given their inexperience.

The two seem destined for a long-term place in the England set-up but there are concerns over whether the duo are ‘too green’ for a major tournament. Time will tell.

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The Foden-Bellingham balancing act

Harry Kane excluded, England have a problem in that arguably their two best players play in the same position. The Three Lions have been down this road before with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard famously failing to complement each other in midfield, with the former often used in a more unnatural defensive role with England. Paul Scholes also spent time out of position as England looked to shoehorn their best players into the same XI and Southgate must find a solution to the Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham balancing act.

The former has had large periods in a wide role for Manchester City, though more often on the right flank that Bukayo Saka occupies in Southgate’s side. The left is not alien to Foden, but a coming-of-age campaign that saw the 23-year-old win the Premier League Player of the Season award has come with increased involvement centrally. Bellingham, however, is almost certain to operate there after a stunning season with Real Madrid.

Does Bellingham drop deeper, alongside Declan Rice, to accommodate Foden? Or is the latter moved to the left, granting Bellingham the marauding licence he has used to such effect for Real Madrid? A third option would be to free both of shackles centrally, though the increased defensive workload for Rice behind them – himself arguably best when driving forward – would be a huge risk at the top level.

Read – Serbia vs England – Euro 2024 Match Preview

See more – A 26-man squad of players England snubbed for Euro 2024

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