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England national football team
European Championship | Group Stage
Jun 25, 2024 at 8pm UK
Slovenia national football team

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England lineup options: Who should replace Trent after failed Euro 2024 experiment?

Gallagher, Wharton or Mainoo? Assessing England's midfield options to replace Trent
© Reuters
Sports Mole looks at how England could line up in midfield for Tuesday's Euro 2024 clash with Slovenia at Cologne Stadium.

As England prepare to face Slovenia on Tuesday in their final group game at Euro 2024, debate rages on about how Gareth Southgate can get the best out of the talent at his disposal given his team's lacklustre showings against Serbia and Denmark.

In particular, Trent Alexander-Arnold's place in the XI has been questioned, as the right-back has started both group games in midfield and has yet to truly settle into his double pivot role alongside Declan Rice.

The Liverpool vice-captain has been substituted twice and replaced by Conor Gallagher on both occasions at the Euros, and reports have emerged that Southgate is set to bench Alexander-Arnold in favour of the Chelsea man.

However, despite being brought on against Serbia and Denmark to impact the games, Gallagher was unable to stamp his authority on either match.

Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo is also an option, and his ability in possession should not be underestimated.

Having said that, Crystal Palace's Adam Wharton should come under serious consideration for a starting spot given that he combines security in possession with a good defensive level, qualities which could help give Rice the freedom to play as more of a box-to-box midfielder.

Regardless, it is vital that England achieve victory on Tuesday given a second-placed finish in Group C would set up a challenging encounter with hosts Germany in the round of 16, and considering they have been one of the tournaments best performers so far, it is a tie that Southgate will be keen to avoid.

The likely candidate: Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher for England on June 20, 2024 [IMAGO]© Imago

Although some have reservations about Conor Gallagher, no one can doubt his relentless nature and sheer determination.

In fact, the Englishman covered 407.16 kilometres last season in the Premier League - a distance only bettered by three players.

From a defensive perspective, Gallagher is certainly front footed, willing to dive into tackles and pressurise opponents, forcing them into mistakes.

For Chelsea, the midfielder had particularly noteworthy performances against Manchester City's Rodri, who many consider to be among the most composed players in world football.

Few players have managed to disrupt the Spaniard in the manner that Gallagher did for Chelsea, and if he can do similarly for England against Slovenia's Adam Gnezda Cerin then the Three Lions could prevent their opponents from enjoying settled phases of possession.

However, Gallagher's relentless nature can sometimes lead to moments where he rushes towards the ball recklessly, abandoning his defensive position without the necessary coverage to counteract his aggression.

Chelsea's Conor Gallagher in action with Manchester City's Rodri on November 12, 2023© Reuters

Indeed, in both league games against Manchester City Gallagher started in a more advanced zone where he could press Rodri without having to worry as much about protecting the backline.

Against Slovenia, if he were to start in a double pivot with Rice this issue could be compounded given that the Arsenal man has at times also been guilty of being drawn towards the ball, and this could lead to England's backline being exposed.

Additionally, it is fair to say that Gallagher is somewhat lacklustre in possession, especially compared to Alexander-Arnold.

However, last Thursday England struggled to play out from the back against Denmark in their 1-1 draw and it became apparent that while Rice and Alexander-Arnold are capable footballers, neither are entirely comfortable receiving the ball under pressure in the middle of the pitch.

This is clear at club level where Rice has often been partnered with Jorginho to compensate for this, while Alexander-Arnold has often started at right-back rather than in midfield zones in order to give him more space and time with the ball.

As such, it is difficult to see how Gallagher can help in this regard, given he too can struggle in possession when under pressure.

The best candidate: Adam Wharton

Adam Wharton in action for England in June 2024© Reuters

If England are to avoid a potential upset on Tuesday and advance into the latter stages of the tournament then Adam Wharton could be key to providing the right balance with and without the ball.

The Crystal Palace breakout star excelled in the second half of 2023-24 at club level, most notably when in possession.

Wharton demonstrated that he was able to consistently receive the ball under pressure and importantly make the right decision in these instances.

This could be crucial for England, as while Alexander-Arnold might be more expansive than the Palace midfielder, Wharton arguably makes more measured choices with his passing, particularly in terms of deciding when to recycle possession and when to play forward.

Southgate lamented his side's inability to control games after the draw against Denmark but if he was to start Wharton against Slovenia then his midfield would no doubt be more composed in possession.

 England Euro 2024 squad File photo dated 26-03-2024 of Adam Wharton[IMAGO]© Imago

An additional upside to starting Wharton would be that he could allow Rice to replicate his role at Arsenal, where he has been able to move further forward due to the presence of Jorginho at the base of midfield.

Although Wharton is not an outright number six, he has demonstrated a good defensive level for Crystal Palace and is fairly comfortable in most phases of play.

If Wharton were to act more reservedly in and out of possession than his midfield partner, then the Three Lions could greatly benefit from Rice's athleticism and ability to burst into the final third from a more liberated box-to-box role.

Indeed, Rice covered 412.96 kilometres in the 2023-24 Premier League season, a figure only bettered by two players in the entire division, but he also managed to accumulate a career high 15 goals and assists in the league.

While Wharton is not a perfect fit in midfield alongside Rice, he would provide a greater deal of balance in and out of possession than Alexander-Arnold or Gallagher, something that was sorely lacking against Serbia and Denmark.

The wonderkid: Kobbie Mainoo

England's Kobbie Mainoo in action on June 16, 2024 [IMAGO]© Imago

Another midfielder that could come under consideration might be youngster Kobbie Mainoo, who has managed to establish himself as a regular starter at Manchester United.

Like Wharton, the midfielder has displayed an exceptional ability to receive the ball under pressure and either play forward or carry the ball himself.

His agility and control in tight spaces is noteworthy and it is arguable that he is already among the best receivers of the ball in the England squad.

Mainoo would certainly be an asset to Rice against Slovenia given the latter's limitations during buildup phases.

England's Kobbie Mainoo during a press conference on June 18, 2024 [IMAGO]© Imago

Additionally, it could be argued that Mainoo is more comfortable than Gallagher and Wharton in advanced areas, with goals against the likes of Wolves and Liverpool particular highlights in his young career so far.

Given England's frustrations in the final third at Euro 2024 so far, as well as the likelihood that Alexander-Arnold will be benched against Slovenia, the Three Lions will need as much creativity and ingenuity as possible from the rest of the team.

However, at Manchester United there have been moments where Mainoo was too easily bypassed in midfield areas and against Slovenia this could be costly, particularly in moments when Rice drifts forward.

Although Mainoo will have to improve defensively if he is to maximise his potential, he has plenty of time in his career to do so, though perhaps Southgate will want to reward the youngster's fearlessness with a starting spot against Slovenia.

Controversial choices

Regardless of who Southgate chooses to partner Rice against Slovenia on Tuesday his selection will no doubt be controversial.

Alexander-Arnold's performances in midfield have been somewhat underwhelming, but it remains to be seen whether introducing a new midfielder will help to alleviate some of the problems England have encountered at Euro 2024.

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England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford pictured in June 2024
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Group A

Q Germany Germany32107
Q Switzerland Switzerland31205
3 Hungary Hungary31023
4 Scotland flag Scotland30121

Group B

Q Spain Spain33009
Q Italy Italy31114
3 Croatia Croatia30212
4 Albania national flag Albania30121

Group C

Q England flag England31205
Q Denmark Denmark30303
Q Slovenia Slovenia30303
4 Serbia Serbia30212

Group D

Q Austria Austria32016
Q France France31205
Q Netherlands Netherlands31114
4 Poland Poland30121

Group E

Q Romania Romania31114
Q Belgium Belgium31114
Q Slovakia Slovakia31114
4 Ukraine Ukraine31114

Group F

Q Portugal Portugal32016
Q Turkey Turkey32016
Q Georgia Georgia31114
4 Czech Republic Czech Republic30121

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