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Gareth Southgate’s final roll of the dice as England boss?

Euro 2024 could be the last dance for Gareth Southgate as England’s manager, and after sticking to his guns for three tournaments, he appears to have finally changed strategy. A constant criticism of Southgate has been the unwavering loyalty he has shown to his players, calling up the same personnel consistently for several years, despite poor club form.

Raheem Sterling, Harry Maguire, and Kalvin Phillips are all examples of players who were still picked for England while they were underperforming at club level, week in, week out. Fikayo Tomori has won a league title in Italy but was snubbed in favour of an ageing Conor Coady for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where Sterling was also consistently picked over an in-form Marcus Rashford.

However, the recent Euro 2024 squad announcement has seen a complete change of philosophy, perhaps in one last roll of the dice for the England boss.

What’s changed for Southgate

Ditching the waistcoat and in a search for young blood, Southgate has finally decided to reward those lighting up the world with their clubs.

Adam Wharton and Kobbie Mainoo are probably the best examples of this new approach, with both midfielders enjoying their breakout season in the Premier League, subsequently receiving call ups to the national team squad.

Crystal Palace are the team with the most players selected for the tournament, with Eberechi Eze, Marc Guehi, and Dean Henderson joining Wharton as those picked to represent the country in Germany after The Eagles enjoyed a monumental end to their Premier League campaign to finish 10th.

A refreshing change to the England squad

Gone are those who had inconsistent years, as Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford have found out, or those who have suffered abysmal form leading into the summer, such as James Maddison and Jordan Henderson.

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In past years, these unlucky few may have made the cut, but not this time around.

Often labelled as tactically inferior to his peers around the world, Southgate has finally shown that when it comes to making a brave decision, he has what it takes to be the England national team manager.

What’s at risk?

All the signs point towards Euro 2024 being make or break for Southgate, with it heavily suggesting that if the Three Lions aren’t successful in Germany, then he will not continue in his role.

Success is the only option in Germany

Apart from his job, his reputation as a manager at the highest level also rests on this tournament.England come into the Euros with one of, if not the best, squads out of all 24 teams that qualified, so failing to capitalise on the situation may leave potential future employers unimpressed.

With his squad choice, leaving out those with previous tournament experience, such as Henderson or Rashford, could come back to bite the England manager due to the relatively inexperienced nature of the camp.

Trust was a big factor in what allowed Maguire, Sterling, and other repeat offenders to consistently find themselves in the national team squad; Southgate knew that they would give their all on the global stage.

However, this still remains unknown with the new selections, and whilst Cole Palmer, Anthony Gordon, and Jarrod Bowen have all enjoyed excellent seasons for their respective clubs, it is still unforeseen what will happen when they have to perform on the biggest stage.

How could the team set up?

An influx of attacking talent has seen fans and critics alike cry out for a tactical shape that accommodates stars such as Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, and Jude Bellingham.

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However, to allow for such brilliant forward players to flourish, the foundations beneath them have to be rock solid.

The inclusion of Wharton and Mainoo could prove crucial in terms of giving Southgate tactical flexibility, when it comes to selecting Declan Rice’s midfield partner. The pair both offer different traits in the engine room, but have the shared qualities of pace, energy, and a strong will to carry the ball forward in a positive fashion.

Past tournaments have seen the England manager outclassed in terms of in-game management, not going for the kill when the time calls for it. The most notable occasion of this reluctance to gamble too much came during the final of the last European championships, against Italy.

After Luke Shaw gave the Three Lions an early lead, Southgate decided to play conservative and sit back on the lead, which ultimately led to the Italians finding their footing in the game, and by the time they’d equalised, Southgate couldn’t reorganise the team to react effectively.

The midfield options give the manager choices, with Mainoo perhaps preferred in games where England are expected to dominate the ball, which would see the Manchester United midfielder thrive in a less restricted environment, allowing him to drive forward with his devastating runs.

On the contrary, Wharton would provide Rice with more defensive security in games that require less room for error, with the passing ability of the Crystal Palace starlet key to calming an intense game down.

Trent Alexander-Arnold also brings unmatched playmaking skills into the middle of the park, but it is yet to be seen if the Liverpool man can cope with the defensive responsibilities of a holding midfielder in the highest-level matchups.

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In the forward areas, the inclusion of Eze provides something completely different from the other attackers, his ability to drag players out of position with his quick feet is invaluable to the team. Anthony Gordon also possesses extreme pace, which could make the difference late in the game of a tight affair, another option Gareth has provided for himself with his new squad selection.

Former England Rugby Union coach Eddie Jones and Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta have both dispensed with the term ‘substitutes’, opting for more fashionable terms instead.

Southgate has followed in their footsteps and is now labelling his men on the bench as ‘finishers’, all part of his attempt to revolutionise the Three Lions approach ahead of Euro 2024.

With a fresh squad and a very different tactical shape, England could play completely differently in Germany.

What are the potential outcomes?

Ultimately, the tournament can either go one of two ways for Southgate: he wins the Euros and keeps his job, or he fails to deliver and is left unemployed.

That said, it goes much deeper than just those two eventualities.

With a young squad, positive outings and an unlucky exit, much in the fashion of the 2022 World Cup loss to France, may allow the England manager some leeway in his shortcomings.

Yet still, the argument surrounding the Three Lions’ youth has been in place since the 2018 World Cup, and now, six years later, the hour has come.

It is time for results, and after only losing out on continental glory due to penalty kicks in 2021, Southgate has to lead the side to go one step closer.

A new dynamic, a new approach, a new philosophy, but the same old goal: Southgate and England have to win the European championships; otherwise, it’s game over for Gareth.

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