What England should do next – BBC Sport pundits have their say

England have made it through to the knockout stage of Euro 2024 and are preparing for a last-16 game on Sunday in Gelsenkirchen against Slovakia (17:00 BST).

But their underwhelming performances in three group games against Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia raised more questions than answers.

The Three Lions have been low on energy and low in entertainment value in Germany.

At the end of Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with Slovenia there were boos from England’s fans in Cologne, some of whom threw plastic cups in Gareth Southgate’s direction as the manager went to show his appreciation for their support.

What needs to change if England are to go deep in the tournament? Why are the Three Lions misfiring? Are we all overreacting? After all, England have advanced as Group C winners.

BBC Sport pundits deliver their verdict on what needs to happen next.

What’s the biggest thing England need to improve?

Stat: Before Wednesday’s games, England’s average xG of 2.26 for their three group games – which measures the quality of chances created – put them 19th out of 24 teams. Their total shots of 29 and shot conversion rate of 6.9% ranked them 17th.

Former England striker Alan Shearer, speaking on The Rest Is Football podcast: “The stats are pretty damning in terms of England creating chances. When you look at the talent we have got in forward positions – which we all thought was going to be one of our strengths – actually that hasn’t fired at all yet.

“We can massively improve and we are going to have to.”

Former England captain Gary Lineker, speaking on The Rest Is Football podcast: “I still seriously worry about the tactical approach of the team. Phil Foden is one of the best number 10s in world football. I think there is a lack of balance to the team and I find it really, really strange that he doesn’t play somebody on the left side that plays on the left side.

“I saw a little bit of spark in the players [against Slovenia] that if they do get the right set-up and play high, aggressively and brave, then I think they could do really well. Do I think he [Gareth Southgate] will play that way? No, I don’t sadly.”

Former England forward Ellen White: “Our tempo. When we move the ball at speed, I don’t think anyone can live with us. It happened in flashes against Slovenia, for example with our disallowed goal, but it didn’t happen enough.”

Former England midfielder Danny Murphy: “It is probably the urgency of our play, or lack of it. But that high tempo we all want to see is linked to the manager’s message really. It has to be a consistent theme coming from the manager to give the players the belief and freedom to be able to do it.”

Why do players look worse than for their clubs?

Stat: Before Wednesday’s games, England had created the second highest ‘build-up attacks’ (16) by putting together the second highest number of 10+ passing sequences of any team, leading to seven ‘big chances’. However, they had just one ‘direct attack’ on three games – putting them 20th on that metric.

Former England striker Wayne Rooney: “There are so many really good attacking players in the team – Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka. We are seeing them perform on a weekly basis for their clubs. There is certainly a problem.”

Danny Murphy: “So many of our players, the Arsenal and Manchester City boys and Jude Bellingham at Real Madrid for example, are used to playing high-tempo and high-energy football on the front foot for their clubs, and that way of playing is drilled into them every day of the week.

“With England they are asked to play a different way because Gareth Southgate is a bit more cautious with his set-up. Here, it looks like many of them are trying to play in a way they are not used to and it is creating a lack of cohesion and lack of belief in what they are doing.”

Ellen White: “You are with your club day in, day out and you know the other players so well because you train together for so many hours a day for weeks and months, and are constantly playing in games together too, so you have that cohesion.

“I am not making excuses but you just don’t get enough time for it to be the same with the national side, and on top of that we are trying to fit so many talented players into one team and find the right system to fit them into, and after a long season as well.”

Are we all overreacting?

Stat: Before Wednesday’s games, the quality of chances teams create against England was the lowest in the Euros – an xGa measurement of 1.15.

One goal conceded and two clean sheets puts England second behind Spain in both those measurements, with Jordan Pickford setting a new England clean sheets record for men’s major tournaments (11 total).

Alan Shearer: “Pickford hasn’t had to make many saves. I don’t think defensively is a problem.”

Gary Lineker: “What I did see in the second half against Slovenia was energy and I haven’t seen energy – apart from the first half an hour of the first game – in the other performances.

“But in this particular performance – apart from the fact they didn’t score any goals against the team ranked 4,000th in the world – I thought there was enough in there.

“There were downsides, but there were real positives – particularly when Cole Palmer came on. We know we have got a lot of talented players but this kid might well be the best of the lot.”

Danny Murphy: “We are watching this football at the moment which we are not enjoying – it is a bit safe, a little pragmatic and perhaps even cumbersome at times.

“Our defensive record and our defensive structure are both very good, but I think we would all like to see a bit of a swing in balance of a more attacking emphasis.”

Ellen White: “Our defensive performances have been a massive positive and we do have to give more credit to how well the backline and Jordan Pickford have done – if we were conceding goals and constantly chasing games then that would be a huge concern.”

What gives you most hope?

Alan Shearer: “Positives are we top of the group – we miss a lot of the big hitters on the other side of the draw now.”

Gary Lineker: “This England team when they play high look much better. There was a spell in the second half for about 15 minutes when they pressed really high and they kept winning the ball back. It was almost like Manchester City.”

Ellen White: “The spark I saw in the second half against Slovenia and the way we were moving the ball in waves. I love the fact this team did not give up. They have had a lot of criticism in the past few days but they really did show in that second half that they really want to perform well here.”

Danny Murphy: “The urgency I sensed from the players to try to get the job done and win the match on Tuesday as the game drew on. That was the first time I had seen it here, and there was an intensity about what England were doing.”

What should the XI be for Sunday and why?

Alan Shearer: “We saw more in three or four minutes when Anthony Gordon came on than we have seen in the three games we have had. No doubt about it that Gareth has to make changes, particularly on either side and one in the middle of the park.”

Former England defender Micah Richards, speaking on The Rest Is Football podcast: “I would start Anthony Gordon. I might even start Cole Palmer as well. I’d give Bukayo Saka a rest on the right-hand side and I’d put Gordon on the left, put Phil Foden inside and maybe play Jude Bellingham a little bit deeper with Declan Rice.”

Ellen White: “For me it would be Kobbie Mainoo coming in for Conor Gallagher, next to Declan Rice.”

Danny Murphy: “Gareth Southgate is not going to do this but I would play Cole Palmer on the right. Phil Foden as the 10 and Anthony Gordon on the left with Harry Kane up top.”

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