The problem positions Gareth Southgate and England must solve before Euro 2024
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The problem positions England must solve before Euro 2024

Gareth Southgate has limited time to prepare England for Euro 2024, a tournament the Three Lions will enter among the favourites for success.

After near misses in recent tournaments, England appear in a strong position to challenge for drought-breaking success and a first trophy since lifting the FIFA World Cup in 1966.

Southgate will have cemented much of his side in his mind, though there remain problem positions to solve in his first-choice XI. March’s fixtures with Brazil and Belgium offer a chance for experimentation and we’ve looked at the problem positions for England to solve before Euro 2024.

The problem positions England must solve before Euro 2024:

Centre-back

Central defence has long been suggested as the Achilles heel of this England team, with long-time Southgate favourite, Harry Maguire, having struggled for form and favour across the last two campaigns.

Maguire has been an undisputed first-choice for England since 2017 and after impressing in the following year’s World Cup, he was named in the European Championship Team of the Tournament as the Three Lions reached the final in 2021.

The 31-year-old’s fortunes have declined since that tournament, however, and he started just eight games in the Premier League last season. Though he has regained more regular football at Manchester United this season, reservations remain over Maguire’s ability to operate in a high defensive line, a tactic top sides commonly operate with in club and international football.

John Stones is an automatic starter at centre-back if fit, though the identity of his partner is less clear. Southgate, famously perceived as risk-averse, is likely to opt for Maguire, given his past performances in tournament football and the lack of experienced options behind him.

Marc Guehi is facing a race against time to be fit for Euro 2024, Lewis Dunk has just three caps, while Joe Gomez has returned to the squad for the first time in three-and-a-half years and has played predominantly at full-back for Liverpool this season.

The uncapped Ezri Konsa and Jarrad Branthwaite are in the latest squad and now appears an ideal chance to hand each an opportunity. That duo have been arguably the in-form English options in the Premier League this season.

Left-back

Left-back is also an area of concern with England’s natural options, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell, having been plagued with fitness problems.

Shaw is out of the current squad and in danger of missing Euro 2024. Manchester United have said the 28-year-old, a regular in recent tournaments, will be out of action for “a few months” with a muscle injury.

Chilwell continues to struggle with fitness issues of his own and has made only 30 league starts for Chelsea across the last three seasons. The 27-year-old won the last of his 19 caps in September 2023 and although he is the natural replacement for Shaw, there will be reservations over his injury record and ability to deal with the workload of tournament football.

Joe Gomez has deputised admirably at left-back for Liverpool this season and his versatility has perhaps contributed to his return to the squad after a long absence, while Kieran Trippier has also operated in the position for England previously. With Kyle Walker almost certain to start at right-back, the latter could be an option to include a Southgate favourite in the side. His set-piece threat would be a welcome addition to the team.

Central midfield

Perhaps the biggest question mark for England is in central midfield. Southgate has long preferred a two-man defensive midfield axis, though the decline of Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips’ struggles have left obvious candidates in short supply.

Southgate ignored calls to hand Ross Barkley an international return after an impressive renaissance at Luton Town, though Kobbie Mainoo of Manchester United has been included. The 18-year-old has cemented a role in the Red Devils midfield under Erik ten Hag, demonstrating a maturity to his game that has led to an England inclusion.

Fans will be keen to see Mainoo tested this month, though Southgate will want to avoid over-pressurising a player who has made just 20 senior appearances for his club side. Henderson is in the latest squad after a January move to Ajax, though the 33-year-old appears on the wane.

Conor Gallagher and Jude Bellingham are options, though each has operated – and performed better – further forward this season.

Could John Stones be an option? The Manchester City man has won rave reviews for his roaming role in Pep Guardiola’s side this season and has all the attributes to form a formidable partnership with Declan Rice in midfield.

The issue, perhaps, is the lack of credible centre-back cover to shift Stones further forward. A clone, or two, of the 29-year-old, would give England the strongest spine in international football.

Read – The best England kits of all time as Nike reveals Euro 2024 jerseys

See more – The most points won in a single season across Europe’s top five leagues

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