England 3 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0: Concerns at full-back and have Eze and Palmer done enough? The Briefing

What Gareth Southgate will hope is a summer of success creaked into action at St James’ Park on Monday night as his England side took on Bosnia & Herzegovina in the first of two pre-Euro 2024 friendlies.

With England’s 33-man squad being cut down to 26 this weekend, it was a chance for some of the fringe players in the squad to make their case, with the likes of Jarrod Bowen, Cole Palmer, Eberechi Eze and Trent Alexander-Arnold all named in the starting XI.

But as so often in friendlies, there was a distinct lack of incisiveness from England. They struggled to break down the stubborn if functional visitors in the first half, despite glimpses of inventiveness from Eze and Palmer.

And it was Palmer who gave England the lead on the hour — from the penalty spot — after a pull on Ezri Konsa was noticed by VAR. Jarrad Branthwaite and Adam Wharton came on for their international debuts before Trent Alexander-Arnold and Harry Kane made the scoreline, if maybe not the overall performance, a bit more respectable.

Chris Waugh and George Caulkin break down some of the main talking points from tonight’s game.

Which England players emerged with credit?

At the end of this week, Southgate must dispatch seven players from his preliminary squad of 33 for the Euros and for England’s penultimate friendly match before the tournament he took a look at the stand-ins, hopefuls and maybes.

For the most part, it was the kind of fixture that international managers tend to refer to as a “good workout,” or a “useful exercise.” In other words, it left you pondering the utter futility of the human condition.

Exceptions to the general rule? Step forward Cole Palmer and Eberechi Eze, both making their first starts for their country and both demonstrating a lack of fear on a night when England had to grind through the gears before finding any kind of urgency.

Ebe Eze Passes

The very notion of uncertainty is anathema to Palmer, who scored 22 Premier League goals and provided 11 assists in his debut season for Chelsea. Playing in the No 10 role behind Olle Watkins, he demanded possession and always attempted to make things happen. The 22-year-old dispatched England’s penalty in the 60th minute as if born to it.

Eze was equally progressive, willing to carry the ball forward when others were more content to play it safe.

George Caulkin

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Do we need to talk about England’s full-back situation?

Three players used at left-back inside a single game, none of them actual left-backs, all of them right-footed.

Trippier, Ezri Konsa and and Joe Gomez are all capable of playing on that flank, but all of them must compromise their game in order to do so. Trippier, for example, kept pressing high and looking to get involved, but was forced to cut inside on his right, rather than whip in early and deep crosses as he prefers to.

Konsa, meanwhile, was used at right-back, left-back and, belatedly, at centre-half, his preferred position, which, although it highlights his versatility, also suggests Southgate is unsure how best to use the Aston Villa defender.

Trippier Touches

Luke Shaw is facing a race against time to be fit for the start of the tournament and, even if he is declared available, the Manchester United left-back has not played since February. Southgate has alternatives at left-back, but none of them are left-footed and none of them are ideal.

And the trials did not stop there. Alexander-Arnold was used as part of the double pivot, attempting to spray passes from deep. While the Liverpool player did relatively well there, it was from right-back that he scored England’s second goal with a delightful swerving volley across the goalkeeper.

England have some top-class players but decisions over the left-back and the second deep-midfield role still feel distinctly unresolved heading into this tournament.

Chris Waugh

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(Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

Did the St James’ Park crowd deserve a bit more?

Newcastle had to wait 19 years to host an England match and, on-pitch entertainment-wise, this was arguably not worth that time delay.

A near-sellout 50,061 crowd were at St James’ Park to see this match against Bosnia and it was quite the occasion in terms of the off-field spectacle. Wor Flags, the Newcastle United fan group, delivered another of their excellent pre-game displays, with a St George’s Flag in the East Stand and the lyrics from “It’s Coming Home” — “I know that was then, but it could be again” — emblazoned in huge letters across the Gallowgate End.

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(Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

Kieran Trippier, the Newcastle captain, was skipper for the night for his country and he was cheered enthusiastically throughout. Jordan Pickford received a mixed reception, albeit a primarily light-hearted one, given his Sunderland connections, though he was also serenaded with chants of, “England’s No 1”.

It wasn’t a classic — despite the late goals — but even so, the FA should not wait the best part of another two decades to return to Tyneside. The north-east deserves a greater number of international matches — and the paying crowd certainly deserve a slightly better spectacle to return to watch in the future.

Chris Waugh

What did Southgate say?

We will bring you this after he has spoken at the post-match press conference.

What next for England?

Friday, June 7: Iceland (H), Friendly, 7.45pm BST, 2.45pm ET

The last game before the first game. After this farewell fixture at Wembley against their 2016 European Championship nemesis, the next time England take to a pitch it will be for their Euro 2024 group-phase opener against Serbia on Sunday, June 16.

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(Top photo: Getty Images)

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