England XI to face Serbia – our writers' picks: Cole Palmer? Lewis Dunk? Kobbie Mainoo?


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It’s nearly time.

Squad discussions and defeats to Iceland are in the past, it’s time to get serious. And they don’t come more serious than selecting an England starting XI to face Serbia in their Euro 2024 opening Group C match in Gelsenkirchen.

Gareth Southgate will get the final say on who lines up, which is fair enough, but our writers have also had a go.

Will Kobbie Mainoo or Adam Wharton be the answer to England’s midfield conundrum? Do Lewis Dunk or Marc Guehi deserve a spot next to John Stones? And how many Crystal Palace players can former Palace centre-back Southgate pick?

See what you think of our writers’ views and then pick your own in the comments section below.

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Spiers EnglandXI Serbia

Serbia are a team packed with height (they were the tallest team in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup and had the most headed attempts of any nation in qualifying for Euro 2024), so they will be direct. Their main route to goal is via crosses and set pieces, mostly aimed at danger-man Aleksandar Mitrovic.

To that end, England need a centre-back to attack the aerial ball and, in the absence of Harry Maguire, Lewis Dunk is more suited to this match than Marc Guehi.

In attack, Phil Foden cannot be shoehorned in on the left, so he starts on the right where he was so effective for Manchester City last season. That means he can dovetail with his club colleague Kyle Walker — it also means leaving out Bukayo Saka, but he’s not fully fit and should be eased into the tournament.

Midfield is the toughest quandary. Kobbie Mainoo just about gets the nod ahead of Trent Alexander-Arnold with the threat of a floating Dusan Tadic in mind.

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Mathews EnglandXI Serbia

Jordan Pickford, John Stones, Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane — in their best positions, with Jude Bellingham as No 10 — pick themselves.

Against a weaker team in Slovenia, Kyle Walker might be supplanted by Trent Alexander-Arnold to offer more creativity from right-back but, for now, solidity is needed.

The elite Marc Guehi — given squad No 6 — should be next to Stones and, as explained here, Trippier is the most viable temporary left-back stand-in.

England’s system isn’t built to get the best out of Foden, but he should start, so left-wing it is. That just leaves the deep-lying midfield position next to Rice.

I like Alexander-Arnold’s fearlessness and range of passing, but given Kobbie Mainoo’s mixed match against Iceland and question marks over Conor Gallagher’s technical aptitude, the gifted, ultra-composed Adam Wharton would be a bold, progressive choice at the double pivot.

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Halford EnglandXI Serbia

The friendlies against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland have left Gareth Southgate with more questions than answers, especially given the omission of Harry Maguire from the 26-man squad.

There is a dearth of international caps among the remaining four centre-backs to partner John Stones and although Marc Guehi is the most experienced (with 11), I would lean towards Lewis Dunk as the most similar replacement for Maguire to combat Aleksandar Mitrovic’s aerial prowess — despite Dunk’s error against Belgium in March.

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The second problem for Southgate is who partners Declan Rice in a double pivot, presuming Bellingham rightfully plays in the No 10 where he has excelled this season for Real Madrid.

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s range of passing might be able to unlock a deep block, but would be more suited to an inverted right-back role and an effective substitute should England struggle to break Serbia down. So Kobbie Mainoo gets my vote to give Rice the freedom to play as a more advanced No 8.

Jordan Halford


Madeley EnglandXI Serbia

It seems Southgate has pigeon-holed Jude Bellingham as a No 10, but why?

He has excelled in the role at Real Madrid this season, but he made his name as an attack-minded central midfielder and could still be world-class in that role.

Using him there would provide England with drive from the heart of midfield and allow Phil Foden to operate where he has shone for Manchester City.

Lewis Dunk’s extra height against Serbia’s aerial threat is a tempting option, but Marc Guehi looks like a better all-round option and if Bukayo Saka is not fit enough to start, then either Anthony Gordon or Jarrod Bowen step in.

Cole Palmer did not catch the eye in the pre-tournament friendlies, but his attacking threat is hard to ignore, while Kieran Trippier is the least underwhelming option to fill in at left-back while Luke Shaw gets fit.

Steve Madeley


McNicolas EnglandXI Serbia

Marc Guehi is understood to be in line to start the first game, but Lewis Dunk’s height makes him an appealing selection against the aerial power of Aleksandar Mitrovic. Kieran Trippier feels like a steady stand-in until Luke Shaw is available to return at left-back.

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quality in possession makes the midfield experiment worth persisting with. It would not be a great surprise to see him sharing games with Conor Gallagher, whose high-intensity style makes him an ideal substitute in the latter stages of games.

The glaring omission from my XI — especially given that I’m an Arsenal writer — is Bukayo Saka. My thinking is this: Saka has clearly been struggling with injury and has not started a game since May 5. Why rush him back for the first game of the group stage, especially when England are replete with other options?

Starting Saka on the bench would enable Southgate to play Phil Foden from the right and use the speed of Anthony Gordon on the opposite flank.

James McNicholas


Kay EnglandXI Serbia

This is the team I’m expecting Gareth Southgate to pick — as well as the one I want him to pick. But it concerns me because deploying Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield still requires quite a leap of faith.

He performed well in a hybrid role this season at Liverpool (primarily deployed at right-back with the licence to drift into central positions) but it still feels a little experimental. Since his academy days, his experience as a fixed point in midfield has been restricted to a couple of low-key games for Liverpool and England matches against Andorra, Malta, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It’s partly the Alexander-Arnold conundrum that leads me to propose a 4-2-3-1 rather than my preferred 4-3-3. A double pivot with Declan Rice would suit both of them — and Jude Bellingham — more than 4-3-3.

But I’m still not certain it works. Likewise, the option of Kieran Trippier as a makeshift left-back if Luke Shaw isn’t yet ready to start. I toyed with the idea of Joe Gomez or Ezri Konsa there. Shaw’s return can’t come quickly enough.

Oliver Kay


Sheldon EnglandXI Serbia

Even though he missed Wednesday’s training session through illness, John Stones is England’s most experienced and important central defender. So, all being well, he has to be in the starting XI.

Given his height and aerial dominance, Lewis Dunk will be a more suitable partner than Marc Guehi, with Serbia being a physically imposing team.

Although Kobbie Mainoo has been excellent for Manchester United, it makes more sense to utilise Alexander-Arnold, and there is little point in risking Bukayo Saka for the first group-stage game as he makes his way back to full fitness. Anthony Gordon is a positive presence going forward and will be able to stretch Serbia’s defence with his pace and direct approach.

In any other system, you would play Phil Foden centrally, but Gareth Southgate prefers Jude Bellingham in that role, so the Manchester City star will need to continue playing on the left wing.

There are, obviously, no question marks about who starts up front.

Dan Sheldon

(Top photos: Getty Images)



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