Rico Lewis epitomises the difficult decisions facing Gareth Southgate
Gareth Southgate will be left wondering what to make of his England team following their two final qualifying matches for Euro 2024. Firstly, against Malta on Friday night, then again against North Macedonia the Three Lions were screaming out for inspiration and energy against opponents more than 50 places below them in the world rankings.
There are a few caveats to take note of when addressing these performances. Southgate has had to manage injuries to key players, with Jude Bellingham’s absence leaving a huge hole in midfield and there being no clear first choice left-back. Then there’s the fact that the Three Lions had already qualified for next summer’s tournament before this international break began. There was no need for urgency or a drive to pick up vital points. They were allowed to coast through these games, and for the most part they did.
As the England boss ponders his next move in planning for the European Championship, he may look back on these two contests at what went well.
Mainly the development of the next generation of England stars.
There has always been a willingness from Southgate to bring through enterprising youngsters while also persisting with the same players that have brought the national team such good fortune since he took charge. In his tenure as head coach he has handed debuts to over 50 players, the most recent recipient being Manchester City’s Rico Lewis who started his first match for the England against North Macedonia tonight.
With the announcement that Euro 2024 is reducing squads back down to 23-players, following a Covid hit Euro 2020 and a winter World Cup in Qatar, Southgate will be forced into some difficult decisions on who to cut. Does he stick with those who’ve performed in the