England’s left wing problem
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England’s left wing problem

24/05/24 18:08

With Euro 2024 fast approaching, we take a look at England’s left wing options and Gareth Southgate’s attacking dilemma.

In perhaps the most surprising decision from Southgate’s recent squad announcement, Manchester United winger Marcus Rashford has been left out of the 33-man preliminary squad for a major tournament after playing in the last four. Despite scoring three goals at the 2022 world cup in Qatar and having 57 caps under Southgate, the England boss said “With Marcus I just feel other players in that area have had better seasons. It’s as simple as that.”

View the full squad announcement here

So, who will play on the left for The Three Lions? Phil Foden I hear you cry. The Premier League Player of the Season and Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year simply must be in the starting XI. Nicknamed ‘The Stockport Iniesta’ Foden has been in unbelievable form this season, scoring 27 times and bagging 11 assists for club Manchester City as he collected his sixth league winners medal.

The only issue is this. Is the left side his weakest position across a front four and does it leave England with a lack of direct dynamism up top. Foden has been exceptional as a number ten for City, and with his ability to cut in on his preferred left foot his second best position is likely on the right hand side. It’s a strange world we live in where the best player in the Premier League this season is being played in his weakest position to accommodate others. However, with Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka’s strengths at number ten and right wing respectively, Southgate is potentially left with no other choice.

But do four technicians leave England short? Harry Kane, not known for his speed in behind but dropping deep linking play and deadly finishing. Bukayo Saka similarly can beat a man, is outstanding with the ball at his feet and can also link play exceptionally. And Jude Bellingham, well he’s Jude Bellingham. Foden, Kane, Saka, Bellingham. On paper it’s an outstanding front four, perhaps even the best at the tournament, but it does lack runners in behind and direct speed. Something that Rashford has always offered the Three Lions in the past, even if it’s from the bench.

Anthony Gordon, Jack Grealish, James Maddison and Eberechi Eze have all played on the left this season, but with Rashford’s admission I believe it’s Gordon who could have the biggest impact in Germany this summer. The 23-year-olds 12 goals and 11 assists this campaign have almost exclusively come from Newcastle’s left flank. Despite being likely to come off the bench for Foden, Gordon offers England a more direct threat in behind. He was named Player of the Tournament as England triumphed in the Under 21 Euros last summer, and could replicate Rashford’s success in Qatar two years ago.

Starting all the best players available is of course essential, especially given the pressure on the national team. The front four is highly likely to be Saka, Bellingham, Kane and Foden. We’ve seen them combine well so far in friendly's but can they do it on the big stage? One thing is for certain, scrutiny of each eleven selected by Southgate will come. It’s up to the players to deliver the men’s first major trophy since 1966.

Despite the players starting being crucial, substitutes like Gordon could provide the winning goal in what is always unpredictable tournament football. Southgate may even change tactics and alter his attack depending on opposition. Much is left to be seen, but should football really come home this summer it won’t solely be down to the first eleven players on the pitch.

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