Monday, June 10, 2024

England Rocked By Iceland

It was a most unfriendly friendly at Wembley Stadium on Friday when England’s tune-up for the upcoming Euros showed a squad seemingly not ready to face the giants of Europe in less than two weeks. A 1-0 loss to Iceland, ranked 72nd in the world, revived painful memories of England’s elimination from Euro 2016 at the hands of the small nation. This was just a friendly, but highlighted there is much work to do before England can be taken seriously as a Euro 2024 contender.

The Three Lions were able to manage just one shot on target at Wembley. Supporters, of course, will question Southgate’s squad selections which saw former England stars such as Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish left off this current version representing God and country. The midfield combination of Kobbie Mainoo and Declan Rice did not mesh and the 19-year-old Mainoo was caught out of position on the Iceland goal. Mainoo could see his place taken by Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher. Gallagher went unused against Iceland after playing 90 minutes versus Bosnia & Herzegovina. Trent Alexander-Arnold could also be in play to move in beside Rice but that seems a risky move in front of a shaky back line. Alexander-Arnold offers intriguing offensive possibilities but has never been a strong defender.

Emerging Crystal Palace player Adam Wharton, relatively untested at the international level, presents another possible but unlikely option. The beleaguered England back line has even more concerns after John Stones suffered an ankle injury in the first half. A rusty Stones had already been partially complicit in Iceland’s goal before his injury. If Stones misses time, a back line already missing Harry Maguire is thrust into further chaos. The center back tandem of Ezri Konza and Marc Guehi did not inspire confidence with Guehi’s wobbly performance versus Iceland particularly worrisome as he had been counted on to take a large step forward in the upcoming competition.

Southgate’s decision to cut Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite could come back to haunt the manager. Branthwaite’s omission from the squad surprised many with pundit Jamie Carragher dramatically (perhaps ridiculously….) calling out Southgate for cutting a young center back who represents “England’s present and future.” Brighton center back Lewis Dunk, still recovering from an injury, is unlikely to be anyone’s idea of a savior.

Left back also remains a headache for Southgate. Luke Shaw is not yet ready to play and the use on the left of right footed right back Kieran Trippier appeared the patchwork solution that it was on Friday. Fortunately, there should be hope that the England attack will be better in the coming weeks. Jude Bellingham has yet to join the squad following Real Madrid’s Champions League final and he should hopefully bring some energy and cohesion going forward. His return will likely displace Phil Foden to the left of England’s attack after the Premier League’s Player of the Year struggled in the Number 10 role versus Iceland. Both Foden and striker Harry Kane were uncharacteristically poor on Friday and better things should be expected from both going forward. It must be admitted, however, that Foden has never shined for England in the manner that he has for his Premier League club.

A pleasant problem for Southgate to have is where Cole Palmer now fits in the squad. The Chelsea star was one of the few top performers for England in this latest match. Does Palmer start for England in place of Bukayo Saka? Newcastle’s Aaron Gordon’s seems destined for the bench despite some brief flashes before he was replaced by Saka in the 65th minute of Friday’s loss. Saka is still managing through a muscle injury suffered late in the Premier League season.

The many decisions for England’s manager must unfortunately be made without the benefit of more on pitch evidence and experimentation before the curtain rises on Euro 24. England begins play versus Serbia in just six days.

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