Talking points as England face Slovakia in last 16 at Euro 2024

England face Slovakia in a Euro 2024 last-16 clash in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday evening looking to advance to the quarter-finals.

Gareth Southgate’s side topped Group C but were widely criticised for their performances across the three games.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the clash at the Veltins Arena.

Southgate’s last stand?

England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates foolowing the World Cup Quarter Final win over Sweden
England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates foolowing the World Cup Quarter Final win over Sweden. (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Having led England into a fourth major tournament as manager, Southgate’s future remains uncertain – especially given the criticism he has faced in Germany.

He was jeered following the Slovenia game and had plastic beer cups thrown in his direction from fans frustrated by the performance.

It is a far cry from when Southgate guided England to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 and the Euro 2020 final at Wembley three years ago and an exit at the hands of Slovakia would likely see his tenure come to an end.

The Mainoo Man

England’s Kobbie Mainoo during the Euro 2024 game against Slovenia
England’s Kobbie Mainoo during the Euro 2024 game against Slovenia. (Adam Davy/PA)

Kobbie Mainoo stepped up for England when he came on in the second half of the goalless draw with Slovenia last time out and will be pushing to start against Slovakia as a result.

Declan Rice remains a mainstay of the England midfield but selecting the right partner for Arsenal’s £105million club-record signing has seen Southgate trial a number of options across the group stage.

Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was the first to be given a go, only to be substituted off in the first two games as Southgate admitted the “experiment” may not have worked out.

Conor Gallagher, who replaced Alexander-Arnold in those two fixtures, started against Slovenia but was hauled off at half-time for Mainoo, the Manchester United man slotting in seamlessly to give his chances of a first competitive England start a huge boost.

Slovakia aiming for the record books

Ivan Schranz celebrates after scoring his Slovakia's opening goal against Ukraine
Ivan Schranz celebrates after scoring his Slovakia’s opening goal against Ukraine. (Andreea Alexandru/AP)

While England will be heavy favourites against a nation ranked 45th in the FIFA world rankings, Slovakia have shown what they can do with a win over Belgium in Group E, a result which ultimately saw them progress in third place.

As an independent nation, Slovakia have never made it past the last 16 at a European Championship and Francesco Calzona’s side will be keen to reach the quarter-finals to extend their run in Germany.

Ivan Schranz scored twice in the group game and will be considered one of the dangermen, while Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka will be aiming to keep England at bay at the other end of the pitch.

Left-back limbo

England’s Luke Shaw during a training session at the Spa & Golf Resort Weimarer Land in Blankenhain
England’s Luke Shaw during a training session at the Spa & Golf Resort Weimarer Land in Blankenhain. (Adam Davy/PA)

Southgate opted to select Luke Shaw as the only natural left-back in his 26-man squad, that despite the fact the Manchester United defender has not played since a hamstring injury in February.

Shaw is now back training with the rest of his team-mates and his return could be timely, especially with fitness concerns over Kieran Trippier, who has been filling in on the left side of defence
despite being right-footed.

If neither can face Slovakia, Southgate will have to choose between Joe Gomez and Ezri Konsa to fill the gap or move Kyle Walker across from right-back. He could even take the radical step of dropping Bukayo Saka out of his attack but the Arsenal man said on Friday he does not see himself as the solution.

It’s a knockout for Kane

England’s Harry Kane challenges for the ball with Slovenia’s Jaka Bijol during the Euro 2024 game

Harry Kane may be England’s all-time leading goalscorer but his strike in the draw with Denmark was his first in the group stage of a major finals since the 2018 World Cup.

The England skipper, though, will be buoyed by his recent record once the business end of the tournament comes around and Southgate will be hoping history repeats itself.

He scored four in four at Euro 2020 as England were eventually beaten on penalties by Italy, and at the World Cup in 2022 he again drew a blank in the group stage before scoring two in two – although he did miss a penalty in the quarter-final defeat to France.