FIVE THINGS Southgate can learn from Malta and North Macedonia games

Use Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield, Eberechi Eze might be the No 10 England have craved, and Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford will finally play together… FIVE THINGS Gareth Southgate can learn against Malta and North Macedonia

  • England are set to face Malta and North Macedonia in two Euro 2024 qualifiers 
  • Many have questioned why these games are taking place so late in the season
  • But there are plenty of lessons Gareth Southgate can learn from these fixtures 

As the severely hungover quintet of Manchester City Treble-winners rocked up at St George’s Park on Tuesday night, many were questioning what the point was of England facing two international fixtures in June.

For it has been a gruelling campaign that started all the way back on July 30 when Liverpool took on Manchester City in the Community Shield, meaning some stars they will have been playing for 46 weeks.

To add even more perplexity to the schedule, most of England’s players would have headed off on holiday for a short break when the Premier League concluded two weeks ago, before then returning for England duty.

The Three Lions face Malta and North Macedonia on Friday and Monday respectively as they look to continue their perfect start to Euro 2024 qualifying.

Victories in both games would give England one foot in next summer’s tournament, Here, Mail Sport outlines five things Gareth Southgate can learn this week.

Gareth Southgate is getting ready for Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia

Man City’s five Treble-winning stars joined up with the England squad on Tuesday evening

See if Alexander-Arnold works in midfield

After what was seemingly a dismal and chaotic season, Liverpool took some credit as they ended it with an 11-game unbeaten run which saw them secure fifth place and almost sneak into the Champions League.

Crucial to this turnaround was the form of Trent Alexander-Arnold – who had previously been widely castigated for his performances – as Jurgen Klopp gave the right back a new hybrid role, tucking inside into midfield.

This was a tactical masterstroke as Alexander-Arnold added seven assists and one goal in 10 games to rediscover his swagger.

The question is now what happens next season at Anfield and whether Southgate tries something similar with the Three Lions.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was reinvigorated at the end of the season when playing a hybrid role

However, gametime hasn’t always come easy for Alexander-Arnold at international level

Despite racking up 18 caps for England, it hasn’t been easy for the 24-year-old at international level as he has often found himself behind Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier in the pecking order. 

In a World Cup qualifier against Andorra in 2021, Southgate trialled Alexander-Arnold as a central midfielder, much to Klopp’s disgust.

‘Why would you make the best right-back in the world a midfielder? I don’t understand that really,’ the Liverpool boss fumed at the time.

‘As if the right-back position is not as important as the others. People who say that I struggle to understand how you could think that.’

Times change, and with England’s squad for the qualifiers comprising of just five midfielders – one of which is the partying Kalvin Phillips – there is surely a strong temptation for Southgate to try and fit Alexander-Arnold into that position.

Can Eze be the creative No. 10 England have craved?

If England have been criticised – perhaps unfairly – for being conservative and boring under Gareth Southgate at times, the England boss could have hardly called up a more exciting player than Eberechi Eze.

The hugely-talented Crystal Palace midfielder ended the season in inspired form under Roy Hodgson, finishing with 10 goals and four assists – an impressive return for a team that finished in the bottom half. 

During recent tournament exits, the Three Lions have been guilty of an inability to keep the ball and create chances throughout games, something Eze will bring in abundance.

Eberechi Eze could make his England debut after his fine end to the season with Crystal Palace 

As was the case in the aforementioned discussion of Alexander-Arnold, due to a limited number of midfield options – and James Maddison listed in the squad as a forward – there is likely to be an opportunity for Eze to show what he can do.

If he does make his debut, it will a long time coming for the Palace star who was forced to withdraw from England’s Euro 2020 provisional 33-man squad when he suffered a serious Achilles injury. 

With Palace colleague Marc Guehi in the squad, along with the club’s former loanee Conor Gallagher, it is a hugely exciting time to be an Eagles fan.

Eze (right) will bring something different and hugely exciting to Southgate’s (left) squad 

Guehi and Mings can put pressure on Maguire 

The much-maligned Harry Maguire was again at the heart of the questions marks surrounding Southgate’s squad selection.

Despite only starting eight Premier League games for Man United and at times being their fifth choice centre back behind Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Victor Lindelof and even Luke Shaw, he remains integral for the Three Lions.

But with the hugely impressive form of Marc Guehi, Tyrone Mings and Levi Colwill – who has joined up with the squad following Lewis Dunk’s withdrawal – it is becoming increasingly harder for Southgate to stay loyal to Maguire.

Harry Maguire remains a key man for Southgate despite his limited gametime for Man United

Marc Guehi (left) and Tyrone Mings (right) are likely to have an opportunity to play this week

The two games against Malta and North Macedonia provide a perfect opportunity for a new partner at centre back for Maguire – with John Stones unlikely to feature too much after his Treble-winning exploits – and good performances from whoever gets the nod could give Southgate some serious headaches. 

Mings has been reinvigorated under Unai Emery at Aston Villa since being unfairly stripped of the captaincy by Steven Gerrard at the start of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Guehi continues to impress for Palace and is linked with big-money moves to both Tottenham and Arsenal this summer, while he has regularly captained the side despite being just 22. 

How deadly could Rashford and Saka be together?

It has been a fantastic year for England’s attacking talents.

Harry Kane enjoyed another superb campaign, while Bukayo Saka took his game to the next level, Marcus Rashford looks back to his best and Jack Grealish now seems to be every inch the £100m player he was expected to be when joining Man City.

And that is without even mentioning the likes of James Maddison, Raheem Sterling, Ivan Toney, Callum Wilson and Phil Foden, with mouthwatering options at Southgate’s disposal. 

Bukayo Saka (left) and Marcus Rashford (right) are set to finally start together for England

Captain Kane is England’s undisputed No 9, and he is almost certain to be flanked by Rashford and Saka.

Despite having 77 caps between them, the pair have never started for England together, but that will surely change this week and it provides a tantalising prospect.

Raheem Sterling has been a mainstay for Southgate ever since he took over in 2016, but with his declining form coupled with fine seasons from Rashford, Saka and Kane, and we could be about to witness the start of a special front-line ahead of next summer’s Euros.

England captain and all-time record goalscorer Harry Kane enjoyed another memorable year

An opportunity to integrate more players  

There is no doubt Southgate has had a transformational impact on England both on and off the pitch during his seven years in charge.

Under his tutelage, the Three Lions have reached a World Cup semi-final then a Euros final before unluckily crashing out in the quarter-finals to France in Qatar last year.

Yet the 52-year-old remains a divisive figure. Many are delighted he decided to continue following the World Cup but others believe Southgate holds the side back.

A criticism of England is the fact that between the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy and the World Cup in Qatar, only Jude Bellingham managed to force his way into the first team 

Callum Wilson (left) and James Maddison (right) should get some opportunities this week

After the progress made over the past three major tournaments, the aim for the Three Lions has to be to go all the way in Germany, but questions remain over whether Southgate can keep improving the side.

A criticism of England is the fact that between the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy and the World Cup in Qatar, only Jude Bellingham managed to force his way into the team, and Southgate needs to make sure they evolve by next summer.

Among the squad for this week, there are likely to be opportunities for lesser-experienced stars such as Alexander-Arnold, Guehi, Mings, Gallagher, Eze and Maddison and giving them chances on the main stage can only benefit England next summer.   

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