04 June 2024

Gareth Southgate pleased with midfield options as duo impress ahead of Euro 2024

04 June 2024

Gareth Southgate praised Trent Alexander-Arnold and the unflappable Adam Wharton as he continues to think about England’s midfield balance at Euro 2024.

The fine-tuning ahead of June 16’s opener against Serbia continued in Monday’s 3-0 win against Bosnia and Herzegovina as Southgate experimented with personnel and positions.

Midfield is one of the key areas of consideration given Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips and Mason Mount are currently out of an England set-up they have been a major part of in recent tournaments.

Conor Gallagher impressed in midfield alongside Alexander-Arnold, who capped a man-of-the-match display with a stunning volley having reverted to a more familiar right-back role.

“We were very pleased,” Southgate said after seeing the Liverpool man in midfield again.

“It is a role he is discovering and he is hungry to learn and has been since I talked to him about playing it a year or so ago, and equally what we saw in the last half an hour is also an important option for us as well.

“We are going to have different challenges in this tournament, and we are going to have to have different ways of solving problems that teams pose us.”

Southgate loves to see Alexander-Arnold enjoying playing in an England shirt but the 25-year-old’s ability to fulfil a midfield role against elite opponents is unclear, with a knee injury robbing the England boss of the chance to test him there against Brazil and Belgium in March.

“That is the unknown,” said Southgate, who has to name his final 26-man squad for the Euros straight after Friday’s friendly against Iceland.

“Obviously with Gallagher, with (Kobbie) Mainoo, even with Wharton you know exactly what they can and can’t do. None of these players can do everything so you are trying to work out the right balance.

“Obviously Declan (Rice) is going to be in there so what is the balance with him? That could be different for different games.

“I think we will play against a back five at certain times and we have got some good options, both what we start with but also what we can adapt to during matches.”

The composition of midfield has long proved a conundrum for England, although the sudden emergence of Mainoo, 19, and Wharton, 20, nods to an exciting future.

Mainoo – given a break after his starring role in Manchester United’s FA Cup final win – linked up with the England camp on Tuesday, having seen Wharton impress on his debut off the bench the previous night.

The 20-year-old put in an assured performance, continuing an impressive rise that saw him join Crystal Palace from Blackburn at the start of February.

“I guess a lot of that comes down to where we think we will need the positional cover, but really impressed with how he has been,” Southgate said.

“He is a very calm boy, he seems to have taken everything in his stride when you think of what the last year has been but when you talk to him, he is just pretty unflappable as he was on the pitch.

“That ability to receive and see a picture early isn’t something you should underestimate.”

Southgate’s decision to bring on Wharton two thirds into Monday’s match was pre-planned, as was Harry Kane’s introduction.

The England captain scored on his return from a back complaint after replacing Ollie Watkins, who got the nod ahead of Ivan Toney.

The Brentford striker will be involved against Iceland but Southgate says getting Kane up to speed outweighs the battle to be his back-up.

“(Toney) will be involved on Friday but I have got to get Harry Kane right,” he added.

“Sometimes the priorities of what’s required and what you would like to see as well, you can’t achieve all of those objectives. Simple as that.”

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