ENGLAND play their first group match of the Euros on Sunday when they take on Croatia at Wembley – but there are still a few key questions for Gareth Southgate to answer ahead of the game…
Having fielded a five-man backline at the last World Cup in Russia, Southgate has opted for a flat back four in most of England’s matches in the build-up to Euro 2020.
Had Harry Maguire been fit, he would almost certainly have paired the Manchester United defender with John Stones. Without Maguire, things become more complicated. Might Southgate decide he needs the protection of an extra centre-half, with Kyle Walker shuffling across from full-back, as he did in Russia?
WHO SHOULD REPLACE MAGUIRE?
Assuming Maguire doesn’t make Sunday’s game – which looks likely – Southgate will have to decide on a replacement, whether he is playing with five at the back or four.
Tyrone Mings is the likeliest candidate, but the Aston Villa defender struggled in both of England’s warm-up matches at the Riverside. That brings Conor Coady into the equation, and could even lead to a shock call-up for Brighton’s Ben White, who was only promoted to the squad as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s replacement on Monday.
HOW SHOULD CENTRAL MIDFIELD LOOK?
The balance of England’s central midfield could well prove pivotal to their chances of winning at the weekend. Mindful of the way Luka Modric ran the game when Croatia beat his side in the World Cup semi-final, Southgate might well opt for two holding midfielders, probably Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson.
However, if he wants to be more adventurous, he could field more of a 4-3-3 formation with one holding midfielder – probably Rice – and two more attack-minded players alongside the West Ham man, perhaps Mason Mount and Jude Bellingham.
WHICH ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS SHOULD PLAY?
This is an England squad brimming with attacking-midfield talent, but as Southgate has admitted himself, he cannot play everyone.
It is hard to imagine Phil Foden missing out after his stellar season with Manchester City, and having impressed against Romania last weekend, there has been an understandable clamour for Jack Grealish to start too. But if they both play, Southgate would almost certainly have to leave out at least two of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.
SHOULD ENGLAND CONTINUE TO TAKE THE KNEE?
Southgate is adamant his players will continue to take the knee even though a significant section of the home crowd booed the gesture during the warm-up games on Teesside, and further booing is anticipated at Wembley at the weekend.
The England squad’s collective commitment to fighting racial inequality is commendable, but Southgate has to ensure the ongoing row over the perceived political angle to taking the knee does not overshadow his side’s efforts on the pitch.