England enter Euro2024 hoping to go one better than they did on home soil in 2021, where a penalty shoot-out loss in the final saw them miss out on a first-ever European Championships to Italy.
The Three Lions have been among the favourites heading into both that tournament and the 2022 Qatar World Cup, and boast an impressive qualifying record both for the 2022 tournament (unbeaten in 10) and this time around (unbeaten in five so far).
They will be expecting to go deep in the competition again in what could well be Gareth Southgate’s final tournament in charge, but there are still some underlying issues.
Mixed form but plenty of promise
As it stands, England are well on course to qualify for next summer’s tournament in Germany, with a 1-1 draw to Ukraine in Wroclaw ending their 100% record in qualifying but keeping their unbeaten streak going.
It comes off the back of a dreadful Nations League campaign, which saw them lose three and draw three of their six games, and they look back towards something like their pre-nations league form, with plenty more promise among their ranks.
Questions over personnel
There can be no doubt that England have the talent to win the competition, and the Three Lions boast some of the best players in the world with the likes of Harry Kane, Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, John Stones and Bukayo Saka all likely to be prominent figures in the starting XI and plenty of talent in reserve in the forms of Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling.
Elsewhere though, there is cause for concern. Jordan Henderson continues to be deployed in central midfield but, having completed a move to Al-Ettifaq over the summer, it is unclear what level his fitness and football will be at come next summer’s trip to Germany.
Behind him in the pecking order, England’s 2021 player of the year Kalvin Phillips can hardly get a game for Manchester City since his move in the summer of 2022, while James Ward-Prowse is consistently overlooked by the Three Lions setup.
That issue extends to central defence. First-choice defender Harry Maguire is a firm backup option at Old Trafford and rejected a move away this summer, meaning that he will be playing minimal football as things stand this season.
Though Southgate has warned that his lack of minutes cannot continue should he wish to be picked, there is little faith in Fikayo Tomori, Lewis Dunk or Levi Colwill to fill in for the Manchester United man as things stand.
Southgate’s tactics also under scrutiny
The England boss also divides opinion. Though plenty point to his record in finals as a sign of his ability, more than a few also hold the view that the Three Lions got into those positions in spite of, rather than as a result of, Southgate’s tactics.
Often conservative and slow to react to changes in-game, some of Southgate’s decisions are met with bewilderment across the fanbase, whether that be the lack of opportunities afforded to Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden, the persistence with the likes of Henderson and Maguire or the generally conservative nature of his tactics.
In what seems set to be his final tournament in charge of the Three Lions, and with the likes of Kane, Sterling and Rice in the prime of their careers come next summer, it feels like a golden opportunity to bring football home.