England vs Brazil: Gareth Southgate still has final pieces of Euro 2024 puzzle to solve

England vs Brazil: Gareth Southgate still has final pieces of Euro 2024 puzzle to solve

England’s front five of Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane will be as good as any at Euro 2024, and Gareth Southgate can also count on an experienced goalkeeper and an embarrassment of riches at right-back.

Even the manager’s concerns at centre-back have eased now that Harry Maguire is back playing for Manchester United, quieting the questions over Southgate’s loyalty to one of his most experienced players.

But three months out from the Euros, Southgate still has major issues to address elsewhere, and he will be searching for solutions in today’s friendly against Brazil at Wembley and Belgium’s visit to the national stadium on Tuesday.

Shortage of left-backs

Luke Shaw has been at St George’s Park for rehab this week but Southgate has acknowledged that he is only likely to be fit for “the dying embers” of the season, leaving England’s first-choice left-back as a major doubt for the Euros.

Ben Chilwell is the only natural left-sided defender in the squad and will surely start against Brazil or Belgium, but the Chelsea player has suffered injury problems of his own this season, and right-footed Kieran Trippier, also sidelined this month, is probably ahead of him in Southgate’s thinking.


Joe Gomez could cover on the left and Levi Colwill has played there for Chelsea, increasing his chances of returning to the squad if Shaw and/or Chilwell are not fit. Rico Lewis and Fikayo Tomori have both covered on the left for England this season, but are not in the current squad.

The bottom line is that Southgate cannot call on another left-back who offers the same defensive nous and natural balance as Shaw.

Third man in midfield

Rice and Bellingham are shoo-ins for England’s midfield three, but the identity of the third man is perhaps the biggest question facing Southgate.

If England were playing Serbia in their opening Euros game tomorrow, Jordan Henderson would probably get the nod, but his relationship with fans has been strained by his sojourn in Saudi Arabia and, at 33, it is unclear if he still has the legs to help England dominate in midfield. He is also absent against Brazil through injury.

Kalvin Phillips is a Southgate favourite, but has effectively played himself out of contention for the current squad with a series of dismal performances since joining West Ham on loan from Manchester City in January.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is an option as a midfielder, but misses this camp through injury, so is there enough time to bed him in before the tournament?


John Stones would be an intriguing option further forward, where he has excelled for Manchester City, but he will be needed at centre-back.

Conor Gallagher and James Maddison are probably too forward-thinking for Southgate’s liking, while Liverpool’s Curtis Jones is another player who misses out through injury. Mason Mount has slipped out of the conversation since the World Cup.

Kobbie Mainoo, the 18-year-old Manchester United midfielder, has a great chance to make an impression this camp, although it would be asking a lot for him to start at the Euros.

Harry Kane’s understudy

Southgate will only be able to name 23 players for the Euros after taking 26-man squads to the last two major tournaments, leaving the manager facing a delicate balancing act.

With Kane almost certain to start every game at the finals if fully fit, it would be a luxury to take both Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney to Germany, and Southgate will want to take a close look at the pair tonight and next week.

 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

Brentford’s Toney is more of a like-for-like replacement for Kane and available again after his betting ban, but Watkins is one of the players of the Premier League season, leaving him in pole position for the difficult task of deputising for the captain.

Jarrod Bowen and Marcus Rashford can also play through the middle, strengthening their cases to be on the plane.

Competition up front

Foden’s form since November’s camp has cemented his place as England’s third forward with Kane and Arsenal talisman Saka — even if both wingers prefer to play from the right.

Foden’s rise in importance for England is as much as a result of his own levels as the drop off in his City team-mate Jack Grealish, who misses out this month through injury, and Rashford, however.

Grealish can barely get a game for the champions, while Rashford has struggled on and off the field this season, leaving Southgate facing major questions over two of his most experienced forwards.

The rise of Chelsea’s Cole Palmer offers England an exciting new option, while Anthony Gordon is likely to be given a chance this month and Jarrod Bowen is enjoying a stellar season for West Ham.

But with Raheem Sterling out of the picture, England are lacking the same fierce competition for places in wide areas they had at the World Cup.