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‘Solid not Spectacular’ – Five key England Talking Point

Southgate will be delighted with the three points but there was still plenty of food for thought for the England boss before Thursday’s second Group C game against Denmark in Frankfurt.

England’s Euro 2024 campaign started in the winning manner that manager Gareth Southgate demanded, but it was not an easy ride against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen.

Jude Bellingham’s stunning display provided several highlights in a 1-0 victory which saw England get the job done in a solid rather than spectacular style.

Southgate will be delighted with the three points but there was still plenty of food for thought for the England boss before Thursday’s second Group C game against Denmark in Frankfurt.

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Brilliant Bellingham England’s talisman
Jude Bellingham’s relentless brilliance which saw him collect the Champions League and La Liga in a stellar first season in Spain shows no sign of slowing down at Euro 2024 with England.

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A then-teenage Bellingham shone on the international stage in front of a global audience at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, performing with the confidence and right measure of footballing arrogance that are the hallmarks of a truly special player.

He is not yet 21, but Bellingham acts like he was invented to play at this elite level and here he produced another headline-grabbing display as the inspiration behind England’s win.

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Bellingham set England on their way with a dynamic run into the area and a flying header after 13 minutes that simply carried too much power for Serbia keeper Predrag Rajkovic.

Serbia had to resort to illegal means on several occasions to stop Bellingham in his tracks, but he is so powerful physically, also possessing the added edge in his game to relish the physical confrontations.

England’s fans also have a new hero to worship, providing a songbook of several chants in honour of the player who manager Southgate will count on so much here in Germany.

And it is an adulation Bellingham not only takes in his stride but encourages.

We witnessed his now trademark arms-outstretched celebration in front of England’s fans at one end of the Arena Auf Schalke after scoring, before he ran back to the halfway line to demand more noise from those following Southgate’s team at the other end.

It is a love affair between Bellingham and England’s fans that surely will run for many years.

Bellingham’s season has been close to perfection – now England will hope he can give it a final flourish at Euro 2024.

Foden fails to make an impact
Phil Foden was one of the Premier League’s stellar performers as Manchester City claimed a fourth successive title but he still struggles to find a comfortable home in England’s line-up.

Foden’s natural position is working centrally, as he did to brilliant effect in Pep Guardiola’s side, but in England’s current system under Southgate he is unlikely to be deployed there with Bellingham the figure around which this side revolves.

Southgate wants to utilise Foden, but against Serbia he once again struggled to make an impact in an area where there have been impressive reports about Anthony Gordon, a potential rival for his position, filtering out of England’s training base.

Foden’s left-flank partnership with Kieran Trippier did not look a natural fit and it is something Southgate must consider before England face Denmark on Thursday.

There was no lack of endeavour, but Foden was never the constant threat he poses for City at club level.

Foden had 64 touches but only one in the Serbia penalty area. He created one chance but it was a low-key, peripheral performance.

No one would ever question the talent of the English footballer of the year but accommodating him effectively is a conundrum for Southgate.

Foden was not the only one to have a quiet night, with captain Harry Kane touching the ball just twice during the first half.

Southgate’s side lack control again
England looked on course for the sort of routine night that would have been the perfect opening to Euro 2024, where their experience of major tournaments and the talent at Southgate’s disposal makes them among the favourites.

Bellingham’s header provided the perfect platform but, as they have done in the past, England failed to maintain intensity after the break and offered an average Serbia far too much encouragement.

Keeper Jordan Pickford made one crucial late save from Dusan Vlahovic as England invited pressure of the sort that might have cost them dearly against a more accomplished side than Serbia. They must learn the lessons. Quickly.

In the end, however, England got the job done and deserved to claim the three points that are always so vital in the opening game of a major tournament.

England was also able to enjoy the added bonus of establishing early supremacy in Group C after the first game between Denmark and Slovenia ended all square.

Saka justifies selection
Bukayo Saka was at the centre of a debate about whether he would be edged out of England’s starting line-up for this tournament by the emergence of Chelsea’s Cole Palmer, a stand-out performer in his first season at Stamford Bridge following a £40m move from Manchester City.

Palmer has shown he is at ease at England level in his brief appearances, and he may yet make his mark in Germany, but Southgate was right to stick with Saka and was rewarded with a fine performance from the Arsenal man.

When England were at their most progressive, Saka looked refreshed and dangerous on the right flank, the high point coming with the cross that provided the invitation for Bellingham to score.

Saka is one of Southgate’s most trusted players, the added bonus being he has established a strong connection with Trent Alexander-Arnold in their appearances together for England.

He made his point and is surely a certain starter against Denmark.

Was Alexander-Arnold choice a success?
Southgate’s choice of a midfield partner for Declan Rice was one of the hot topics in the build-up to England’s campaign getting underway.

The manager decided to go with the positive attacking option of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold despite having Manchester United teenager Kobbie Mainoo and the impressive Crystal Palace player Adam Wharton in his ranks.

Alexander-Arnold’s outstanding range of passing gives England an added dimension, while his ability at set-pieces can be a world-class weapon.

The questions still surround whether he can operate in this role against opponents of the highest class at the international level. Southgate has made his choice so it is very likely we will find out later in Euro 2024 if England progress.

There were moments when Alexander-Arnold’s unfamiliarity in the position was exposed, especially when he conceded possession and Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic shot inches wide in the closing moments of the first half.

A full-back for Liverpool, Alexander-Arnold also showed moments of the peerless raking passing that is his stock in trade. It is such creative ability that Southgate is counting on as England starts their quest to win the first major men’s trophy since the 1966 World Cup.


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