England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (2024)

England finished top of their group at Euro 2024 to set up a last-16 tie against Slovakia.

Gareth Southgate’s side have failed to convince, however, in a victory over Serbia and draws with Denmark and Slovenia.

An injury to Luke Shaw has meant playing the right-footed Kieran Trippier at left-back, while trying to fit in leading players Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice has resulted in none of them performing to the levels we have seen for their clubs. Should Kobbie Mainoo or Conor Gallagher start?

GO DEEPERStrong spine, Napoli-style attacks and Euro 2024's oldest team - this is Slovakia

What is the right line-up against Slovakia? Here, our writers give their views. Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

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England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (2)

Southgate may as well be bold at this point. So why not try to rebalance the team through moving Saka to left-back, the position he used to play as a teenager, and giving England some width down the left?

That would create an extra attacking position on the right, which can go to Palmer after his confident cameo against Slovenia. Foden and Bellingham have spent too much time getting in each other’s way this tournament, so only one should play in Gelsenkirchen. If Foden is back in Germany in time, as he is due to be this morning, it should be him, if not then Bellingham can continue. That in turn would create an extra space on the left which can go to Gordon, allowing England to stretch the play and run in behind.

GO DEEPERWhy England should play 3-4-3 with Bukayo Saka at left wing-back

Then in midfield, Mainoo has to come in for Gallagher, giving England some extra control of the ball. Maybe that means England will be defensively vulnerable — and with Saka at left-back, too — but that is a risk they have to take.

Jack Pitt-Brooke

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (4)

Even if Shaw is injury-free, I wouldn’t parachute him straight back into the starting line-up. He’s been out for four and a half months and he’s not the hit-the-ground-running type after an injury lay-off. And even when fully fit, he’s a good left-back, not a great one. The fact he is a left-back is certainly a help, but I don’t think his return is the game-changer some are suggesting.

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I know some people want wholesale changes, but I’m going to restrict myself to one: Mainoo for Gallagher in midfield. I have a slight concern about Mainoo, given he is part of a Manchester United midfield that has been so easy to play through on so many occasions, but I feel he could bring the right balance between technical quality and box-to-box energy.

GO DEEPERWhy Mainoo and Palmer were the beneficiaries of another dour night for England

That hints at more of a 4-1-4-1. It could get very crowded in the central areas, but I would hope a Saka-Mainoo-Bellingham-Foden axis would prove better at playing in tight spaces. That strikes me as more important, in a game like this, than the much-discussed need for speed.

Oliver Kay

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (6)

I was an advocate of starting Kobbie Mainoo in the opening game — despite me suggesting an unchanged side against Denmark after the 1-0 win over Serbia — but his second-half display against Slovenia means I’ll revert to this, with Conor Gallagher being too limited in possession against a deep block and the Trent Alexander-Arnold experiment not working.

Given Phil Foden’s return to England, the other issue is who starts on the left, with both Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer giving England impetus in the second half against Slovenia. I was tempted to plump for Gordon (despite falling off his bike in the training camp), mainly due to it being his natural position and to give England some much-needed balance on the left and pace around the ever-dropping-deep Harry Kane, but he can still impact the game off the bench if required, so I’ll back Foden to come good.

Despite two fairly flat performances, England look defensively solid — which was the main concern before the tournament — so the system remains the same with more than enough quality to break down any opposition.

Jordan Halford

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (7)

Will Gareth Southgate be brave enough to drop his two main underperformers — captain Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham? Probably not, but I would.

England are crying out for the pace of Watkins, while Palmer and Gordon have shown in their recent cameos that they bring balance to the wide positions, with the ability to go outside as well as cut inside.

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In the No 10 position, although Foden has not been on top form, he has done better than Bellingham in the last couple of games. Bellingham looks tired and frustrated.

The only other decision needed is who should play alongside Rice in midfield. The Alexander-Arnold experiment didn’t work, while Gallagher lasted just 45 minutes. Mainoo looked the best bet when he replaced him, with his ability to do a bit of everything — pass forward and be combative.

Rob Tanner

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (8)

After topping the group in unconvincing fashion, Gareth Southgate is still trying to find a formula to make England tick.

The back four — who have looked fairly solid, albeit against weaker opponents — remains the same unless Shaw is fully fit. If so, he replaces Trippier to offer England greater balance down the left. Watching a rerun of that glorious first two minutes of the Euro 2020 final earlier this week was a reminder of what he can bring to the team.

Mainoo played himself into the starting XI on Sunday after his impressive second-half performance against Slovenia. He gave England an injection of quality and sped up the play. Palmer also now deserves a start following his cameo and should come in for Saka on the right. Bellingham was below-par last time out, but he’s a world-class player with a swagger and winning mentality who you expect to up his game against Slovakia.

There’s also more to come from Foden and Kane, but it’s their chance to now help England build momentum as we enter the business end of the competition.

Tom Burrows

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (9)

This was the starting XI that I wanted before the tournament and nothing that has happened on the pitch so far has changed my mind.

Jude Bellingham has excelled at No 10 for Real Madrid, but after three largely miserable England performances against mediocre opposition, it’s obvious the current setup isn’t working.

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This is partly due to the absence of a left-footed left-back, but a side with as much individual quality as England should clearly be able to function, and thrive, despite this.

Playing this team allows Foden to operate as a No 10 — his best position — and should give England some desperately needed control and impetus in midfield, with Bellingham given licence to bomb forward (which he did so effectively at the 2022 World Cup).

Gordon will offer pace on the left (again something England have been lacking) and Palmer, who would be comfortable operating anywhere in the three behind Kane, is a superb option to bring off the bench.

If Shaw is fully fit, then he should start at left-back, but he is not going to be the saviour some people appear to be suggesting.

Talk of not playing Kane is madness — he would be in England’s all-time XI and has consistently delivered at tournaments under Gareth Southgate.

Will Jeanes

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (10)

I watched Slovakia’s first and third games in Group E and saw a team that wanted to bait teams into pressing them before hitting switches to open wingers. Francesco Calzona’s side isn’t the most clinical in open play, but they employ several inventive set-piece routines worth paying attention to.

They seem to be vulnerable to attacks out wide. Get your full-backs to push high and stretch the experienced Slovakian back four, before encouraging your wingers to run in behind. If your wide players can beat their defenders off the dribble — like Belgium and Romania did in spurts — then you should be in.

Promise Saka and Gordon their choice of song on the dressing-room stereo for every nutmeg they get on Sunday. Give Eze, Alexander-Arnold and Watkins a run out on 70 minutes, too.

This is the last time I’ll suggest England using a back four at this tournament. After this, we’re going full Fernando Santos sufferball.

Carl Anka

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (11)

This line-up is still far from ideal but it has the potential to provide more spark.

The three underused players who came on as substitutes against Slovenia — about time, Gareth — should be rewarded. I am a big fan of Saka, but he does not seem 100 per cent. Palmer is in the mood to try things and catch defensive-minded sides out. That’s what England need on Sunday.

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Mainoo unsurprisingly looks assured next to Rice and deserves a start. Gordon can finally offer some proper width and balance on the left flank, too.

The hardest decision was deciding which one of Foden or Bellingham to leave out. It is Bellingham’s turn to miss out on one of my line-ups because he appears to need a break and Foden will get to concentrate on operating centrally.

Kane does not seem his usual self either, yet it is a big call to have him on the sidelines. Watkins should be utilised in the second half though.

Despite suggestions he is fully fit, I cannot see how Shaw can be risked from the get-go at left-back given he has not played a match for four months. The stakes are too high.

Simon Johnson

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (12)

There are a few presumptions made when selecting this team. Firstly, that Shaw, despite returning to full training, is still a long way from match fitness. Logic suggests that must be the case, having not played since mid-February, but if England’s coaches genuinely believe he can play a proper part from the quarter-finals onwards, they should disregard my advice (they will anyway, I know) and stick with a back four that he can slot into.

Secondly, Foden’s time away from the camp and its pre-match pattern-of-play sessions makes him an unlikely starter. Thirdly, Kane is struggling physically. He has been so far below his best, he must be. A fit Kane is a nailed-on starter, but this Kane is not.

I would still love to see Bellingham tried alongside Rice but if Foden is out, then it provides a chance for him and Palmer to influence the game further forward and Mainoo to provide some control from deeper.

Steve Madeley

(Top photos: Getty Images)

England XI to face Slovakia: Mainoo? Shaw? Foden at No 10? Our writers' picks (2024)

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