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Will England’s Defensive Woes Prevent Them from Winning EURO 2024?

When comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, alongside Lightning Seeds frontman Ian Broudie, wrote the song ‘Three Lions’ to soundtrack England’s bid to win EURO ’96, they sang of ‘30 years of hurt’ – commemorating their last major tournament win in 1966.

That drought has now extended to 58 years, although the hope for England fans is that EURO 2024 will finally bring an end to their wait for silverware.

There’s no doubt that Gareth Southgate has a multi-talented squad at his disposal in an attacking sense, but will defensive weaknesses see those ‘years of hurt’ extended to 60 at the earliest?

Last Line of Defence

The bookmakers are certainly bullish about the Three Lions’ chances, with the EUROs betting marking them down as the 3/1 favourites to lift the trophy.

World Cup finalists France (7/2), hosts Germany (5/1) and the ever-classy Spain (15/2) are next up in the EURO 2024 winner odds, but holes can be picked in each of their respective title bids.

However, the same can be said for England.

Aaron Ramsdale lost his place in goal for Arsenal to David Raya during the 2023/24 campaign, which means that his place between the sticks for England will likely go to Jordan Pickford again – a stopper coming off the back of a relegation-haunted campaign for Everton.

Kyle Walker and John Stones pick themselves in defence, but who will they be joined by?

Southgate could go with the curveball option of selecting youngsters without much international experience to their name, but that has rarely been his modus operandi at big tournaments.

Harry Maguire, a defender vilified by Manchester United supporters following another mediocre season at Old Trafford, has been there and done it with England, but his lack of pace could be a concern when matched against a Kylian Mbappe type.

There are question marks over the defensive work of Trent Alexander Arnold too – although his technical ability cannot be questioned, while further problems emerge at left back.

Luke Shaw hasn’t played since February due to injury, so it’s unlikely he will be match-sharp heading into the tournament. It may mean that Kieran Trippier, naturally right footed, may be forced to play on the left.

These are not the issues you’d expect a tournament favourite to be facing…

The Shield

Although Southgate has opted for a 3-4-3 style formation in the past, it’s thought he will instead go for 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in Germany in order to squeeze as many of his attacking talents into his starting eleven as possible.

He will need balance in midfield, of course, but a lack of experienced defensive midfield options could also leave England’s defence exposed on counterattacks in particular.

Declan Rice is world-class in the role, but would have a lot of ground to cover as a lone number six – however, there’s nobody else in the preliminary EUROs squad that is a natural as a pivot.

Southgate himself has laid bare the challenges he faces in naming an England side that can go all the way to the EUROs final in Berlin on July 14. “In the last few months I’ve been thinking, ‘Declan with who?’ And, ‘who if without Declan?’ When everyone is saying we have a procession to Berlin, they’re the things I have to worry about.”

He, and England supporters dreaming of an elusive big tournament win, will be hoping that they don’t have to find out.

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