Gareth Southgate's problems to solve ahead of Denmark clash

England got their Euro 2024 campaign of to a winning start after a 1-0 victory over Serbia. However, the performance was not convincing and Gareth Southgate will have issues to resolve ahead of the next group game.
Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024
Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024 / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Jude Bellingham's 13th minute goal was enough to seal an opening game win for England against Serbia. England have an abysmal record in opening games of European Championships having won just one of their previous eight opening matches at the tournament. The win was therefore crucial even if the performance, as I would describe, was very uninspiring.

England started the game brilliantly and dominated the early stages. They looked comfortable in possession and moved the ball quickly enough to pose Serbia problems. The early pressure was rewarded when Kyle Walker's pass in behind the Serbia left back for Saka to chase resulted in the Arsenal man's cross being guided into the top corner by a Bellingham bullet header. The next 15 minutes saw England maintain control but it was clear the ambition to attack was fading away.

Jude Bellingham
Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024 / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Serbia were the team on the front foot for the final 10 minutes of the first half and this continued into the second half. It was clear the message was to sit in and defend the lead rather than try to extend the advantage. In the end, despite a few chances going begging for Serbia, England defended with solidarity and hung on to their clean sheet and therefore the victory.

England fans, including myself, were relieved to get the first win on the board but left feeling a sense of disappointment at the approach to the game by the Gareth Southgate and the team. Despite the important three points, having played poorly in warm up games ahead of the tournament it would have been good for England to lay down a marker of intent to show other top nations that England are a team to be feared, but that wasn't the case. There were some obvious areas for Southgate to consider ahead of Thursday's fixture against Denmark.

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Trent Alexander-Arnold
Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024 / Ian MacNicol/GettyImages

Having played primarily as a full-back throughout his career to date, Southgate has been experimenting with the idea of TAA playing as part of the double pivot in midfield alongside Declan Rice. Last night's game proved that the Liverpool man is not ready to play for England in that position and looked lost.

He gave up a big opportunity by giving the ball away under little pressure on the edge of his own box in the first half and drifted through the game with very little impact. TAA has spent most of his career at right-back and therefore facing the game from the back.

Now playing at centre midfield, his back is often to the play and the role requires someone with the technical ability to look after the ball under pressure. TAA is not that player, and despite having a great passing range, against better teams he will struggle a lot more and cause the team problems.

The left hand side

Having won the Premier League Player of the Season, England fans were very excited to see Phil Foden produce the type of performances he did for Manchester with the Three Lions on his chest. However, last night Foden was one of the poorest players on the pitch and is not helped by the fact he's playing on the left of midfield. Someone so good and with so much ability, as pundit Cesc Fabregas mentioned post-match, should be able to adapt to a different position but Foden looks unlikely to be able to do it.

England were screaming out for width so that the team could stretch the opposition and get in behind the defence, but the obvious substitute to take Foden off and bring on either Anthony Gordon or Eberechi Eze didn't come. If Southgate is to continue playing Bellingham as the number 10, then Foden will not be able to continue playing on the left if England are to be successful.

Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024
Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024 / Crystal Pix/MB Media/GettyImages

The other issue on that side of the field is at left-back. England knew before the tournament that Luke Shaw, England's strongest player in that position, was unlikely to be fit and so we saw Kieran Trippier in that position. Trippier is a strong defender and attacking outlet when playing on the right but whilst on the left it is not the same.

Trippier will often cut inside on his stronger foot rather than whipping the ball in with his left when the opportunity is there which means our forward momentum is slowed down. If Shaw is unable to come back into the team during this tournament it is likely Trippier will continue to play at left-back but England will need to think about providing the right balance.

Ollie Watkins

One of England's biggest issues from last night concerns the fitness of captain Harry Kane. Kane was substituted during the final stages of Bayern Munich's Champions League semi-final defeat to Real Madrid a few weeks ago and he seemed to be struggling for fitness last night. Looking heavy in his running and off the pace, this presents a problem to Southgate with games coming thick and fast.

Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024
Serbia v England: Group C - UEFA EURO 2024 / Ralf Ibing - firo sportphoto/GettyImages

The other issue was that the game was really, similar to the left hand side, screaming out for a forward that would stretch the game. With England dropping deeper and deeper in order to defend, Kane did the same as he often likes to do and congested England's system in the middle whilst providing no outlet up top.

Many believe that the last 15-20 minutes should have seen Ollie Watkins come on in his place. Watkins is a player who likes to make runs beyond the defence and therefore would have allowed England to get down the channels and create opportunities to finish the game off.

However, England persisted with playing deep and didn't provide a goalscoring threat at all in the second half, barring one header from Kane. Games like last night's would be a good chance for Southgate to utilise his squad to effect the game when the team is tired and/or needs a change in system. He must learn from this quickly.

England fans will be hoping for a better performance on Thursday!