Palmer in, Trippier to the right and Saka to the left: my blueprint for England success

palmer in, trippier to the right and saka to the left: my blueprint for england success

Karen Carney's lineup for England v Slovenia. Composite: Observer design

There appears to be anxiety in the England camp. Their two performances in the Euros have not been what anyone expected. The important thing, however, is that Gareth Southgate’s experimentation has not cost too much, leaving his team top of the group with a game to play but with plenty of improvement required.

The best teams are balanced and I do not think England have found that. The win over Serbia and draw against Denmark have to offer an awakening to the players and management before it is too late to correct the problems. Tuesday’s game against Slovenia is a chance to prepare the team for the knockout stages. A dominant victory would give momentum and rhythm and rebuild confidence. If England fail to win they could finish second in the group and face Germany in the last 16 or even end up third.

I am confident pretty much everyone would have picked the same starting XI as Southgate in the opening two matches because we all want the best players on the pitch – but that does not always create the best team. If the balance and dynamics are not quite right then one of those top players may need to be sacrificed for someone who can help the unit.

Southgate has versatile and adaptable players, which will help when changes need to be made. I believe a shift in formation would be ideal as he looks to balance the team. A 5-2-1-2 system could provide the structure required to get the maximum out of those available.

England are best with a back five and have been for some time. I would move Kieran Trippier to right wing-back and Bukayo Saka to the left, with Kyle Walker, John Stones and Marc Guéhi as the centre backs. That quintet offer a lot of pace and experience. Stones could do similar to his role at Manchester City, where he can move into midfield and help with the buildup.

I am sure many people would be concerned about moving Saka away from his favoured position further up on the right, where he has impressed for club and country, but he has been a wing-back before and would have the licence to be essentially a winger. Trippier’s presence would allow for fluidity in the defence. He would drop back when Saka is further up, ensuring solidity and structure. Without a left-footer at left-back the team have been unbalanced, so playing Saka there would be beneficial.

The players have looked fatigued and lacking in energy: Jude Bellingham was visibly tired against Denmark, as were Declan Rice and Harry Kane. I do not think it is physical because this is a group of individuals who play week in, week out expending high levels of energy. I wonder if it is psychological, allowing a level of anxiety to surface because they do not think the composition of the side is correct and are under a lot of pressure as one of the tournament favourites.

England do not have a No 6 who can dictate play and Stones pushing up would assist Rice, who required Jorginho to come in alongside him at Arsenal to help with distribution. Bellingham would need to accept playing deeper as a No 8, which I think would suit him making runs from deep and arriving in the box late, just like his goal against Serbia.

At Bayern Munich Kane has not come to receive the ball to feet in deeper positions too often because he has the players around him to provide the service. When he drops deep with England, he wants to help because he is frustrated by the lack of opportunities. Having Phil Foden behind him, in areas where Foden has shone for City, would help with chance creation, while Saka and Trippier would get crosses into the box, allowing Kane to focus on scoring.

I would start Cole Palmer alongside Kane. I am not sure why he is yet to feature after a great first season at Chelsea. We are not seeing training, where his performances may be influencing Southgate’s decision, or maybe his lack of international experience is counting against him. He is the type of player I would like to see because he is bold and brave on the ball – he will not shy away from anything. He does not care who he is playing against, he just wants to get on the ball. England needs that fearless mentality.

As an England player, I always knew after our first or second game of a tournament whether our flow was right. I went to one where we got knocked out early out and I knew early on that our levels were off and our dynamic was not right. When I was in England teams that reached the latter stages, I was always confident from those opening games that we would go far, and that confidence was spread throughout the team because we knew we had the right personnel and balance. When everyone knows something is not right, it does affect players.

Rhythm and fluidity are key to success and change is required to give this golden generation the best chance. Southgate does not have time to mess about and critical decisions need to be taken. Like his players, he needs to be bold.

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