England predicted line-up against Netherlands in Euro 2024 semi-finals: Why Phil Foden still struggles

England are in the semi-finals of Euro 2024, but no one associated with the Three Lions would tell themselves that they have anything other than a lot of work to do if they are to win the Henri Delauney Trophy. That work begins by Netherlands in Dortmundperhaps the biggest test Gareth Southgate's team have ever faced at a tournament where they faced far more ordinary opponents.

It would indeed be a faint compliment to say that their quarter-final victory over Switzerland on penalties was one of their best performances of the competition so far. They simply weren't actively unpleasant to watch, even if they still needed heroics from Bukayo Saka and nerves of steel from their penalty takers to get past robust but unexciting opponents. How much of England's relative improvement was down to a somewhat overhyped change of formation – reportedly a switch to a three-man defence, England often looked like a four-man defensive team operating with the usual trope of a left-back who was far more advanced than his right-handed counterpart – is an open question. The fact that they won with it would suggest that this tinkered approach will remain for as long as they are in the tournament.

Which positions and players does Southgate think could come under scrutiny?

Could anything save Manchester City's Foden?

In terms of players who seem incapable of leaving the pitch, it’s worth reflecting on the minutes Phil Foden has played. In England’s games to date, he has played 90, 69, 89, 89 and 115 minutes of football. If those numbers were to come to the end of the season, they wouldn’t be such a surprise, with one of last season’s best Premier League players being handed a commanding role on the international stage. And yet, ahead of his 40th cap on Wednesday night, England have yet to see a Foden performance that comes close to the baseline he set with Manchester City this season.

One thing is for sure. If Foden was as wasteful in top positions for City as he has been for England, Pep Guardiola would never leave him on the pitch for so long.

Phil Foden's Euro 2024 chances, sorted by xG value

TruMedia

While it’s worth noting that the best shot he’s taken this tournament was ruled out for offside, Foden’s nine attempts have combined for 0.31 expected goals (xG). The caption above says that shot points are determined by xG. That’s not a typo. Three of the shots he’s taken are literally one in a hundred attempts. At no point in the last four years of Premier League and Champions League football has he had such a run of bad shots.

Of the 171 players at Euro 2024 who have taken three or more shots, Foden ranks 151st for xG per shot with 0.035, surrounded by the kind of defensive midfielders — N'Golo Kante, Declan Rice, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg — who will invariably score and hope for more than most. Meanwhile, a player who averages 0.23 expected assists (xA) per 90 for his club is on 0.08 at Euro 2024, just behind Marc Guehi. Something is not right, despite the sparks of life some saw in the first half against the Swiss.

Perhaps the fault lies less with Foden himself than with the surrounding areas. When he started the tournament on the left, you’d think his best role would be to drift inside, but to do that effectively he’d need a left-back to overlap. Kieran Trippier hasn’t been that. Moved infield against Switzerland, has the 24-year-old dropped into midfield more often than expected as someone has to provide a passing progression that isn’t Rice’s or Kobbie Mainoo’s strengths?

Whatever the explanation, the end result is the same. England are given a player who seems to have been given a free role that he has never had for his club. It would be no wonder if, instead of darting around the pitch, he felt lost without a defined role to play. It is hard to imagine a team in flux inserting him into a defined system with two games to go in their tournament.

Should Southgate want a more free-spirited talent in his front line, he has options. Cole Palmer was often fed the ball last season in a Chelsea team that lacked many attacking automatons, and was tasked with beating his man and creating a shot for himself or his team-mate. No wonder he seemed so at ease as England chased the game, showing little structure or tactical underpinnings. Palmer hasn’t provided much end product so far, but he is a “maverick” player who “makes things happen.” There’s nothing the English game loves more, except perhaps a killer sliding tackle. With an average of a take-on every 11 minutes, could he be the man to give England’s cause a bit more bite?

Don't miss CBS Sports Golazo Network's Morning Footy, now in podcast form! Our crew brings you all the news, views, highlights and laughs you need to follow The Beautiful Game in every corner of the world, every Monday-Friday all year round.

Exhausted Harry Kane under pressure

Now let’s move on to something that’s easier to make a confident prediction about. Barring a remarkable series of events, Southgate won’t be dropping his captain, one of the great backbones in the run-up to three semi-finals in the last four major tournaments. Despite all the difficulties of the past few weeks, that’s an understandable attitude. If the ball were to fall to an England player in the penalty area, you’d want it to be Harry Kane.

The question is whether he will be in the penalty area when he needs to be. A few snippets of play on Saturday provided an example of the problems Kane causes his team-mates. Moments before Switzerland took the lead, the England captain was again on the edge of his penalty area, working hard to shield the centre-backs behind him and secure possession. Kane got the ball back, one of five times he had touched the ball into his defensive third (as many as he had managed in the Swiss penalty area), and soon Kieran Trippier and Jude Bellingham had worked themselves into excellent positions down the left flank. Unfortunately for them, all their options were on the far side of the pitch. On the near side of the penalty area was a gap, which Kane would fill seconds later when he stepped onto the pitch.

Harry Kane's action points in England's Euro 2024 quarter-final against Switzerland

TruMedia

Kane has never been the type of sprinter who can move from one end of the pitch to the other in the blink of an eye. He’s not going to be that at the age of 30, at the end of an international tournament, after a gruelling season ended prematurely by a persistent back injury. People are already talking about England’s captain being his country’s Cristiano Ronaldo. If he could do anything, he could be more like Portugal’s talisman-cum-lodestone. Just camp outside the other team’s penalty area, Harry. Let the ball find you.

England, surprisingly, have already proven that it works for them. Their best performance of the tournament was the 1-0 win over Serbia, with Kane staying high (particularly in a first half in which he had only two touches on the ball) to create space for Bellingham and others to play into. When almost everyone in this England team has a pathological urge to get on the ball, all Kane has to do is hold his line and force the centre-backs to stick to him. That shouldn’t be beyond his capabilities. If it is, Southgate needs to be much bolder in substituting him.

Shaw and other concerns

England has a lot to worry about, so let's quickly run through a few other things:

  • Is Luke Shaw good enough to go from the start? Even when introduced as a left-footed centre-back, the Manchester United man showed he can stretch the England left flank towards the byline in a way that simply doesn’t make sense for the right-footed Trippier. The challenge with betting on Shaw’s fitness is that a Dutch right flank where Denzel Dumfries is so often free to bombard from full-back would be questionable for anyone, let alone a man who played just a few hundred minutes last season as injuries struck hard.
  • Shaw's presence could go some way to improving this team's deep progression, as they have at times proven painfully slow to get out of their own third. It doesn't help that neither Rice nor Kobbie Mainoo are natural passers.
    The latter has shown an ability to propel his team up the pitch with the ball at his feet, but such moments are notable partly because they are so rare. So far, Mainoo has averaged just 13 per cent of his passes forward and has completed 2.13 carries of 10-plus yards per 90 minutes. That is not to say he looks ineffective, with his off-ball work in the Swiss half in particular making a significant contribution. Whatever the system, England must find a way to utilise both his and Rice's ability to press teams attempting to break through the front lines of the press. Any system with the pacey Kyle Walker and Shaw defending the flanks could help.
  • Outside of the starting lineup, Southgate can expect a sharp focus on how and when he makes his changes. That Ivan Toney, Shaw and Palmer have made a meaningful impact off the bench is not to absolve the England manager of blame. It should be seen as a challenge to him. How can he let situations drift for so long? Why isn’t the initiative taken sooner? Pick a scenario and England likely have a player on the bench who can make the right impact.

Predicted England XI

Pickford; Walker, Stenen, Guehi; Saka, Rice, Mainoo, Shaw; Foden, Bellingham; Kane

How to look and opportunities

  • Date: Wednesday July 10 | Time: 3:00 PM ET
  • Place: BVB Stadium – Dortmund, Germany
  • Watch: Fox or Fubo (try for free)
  • Chances: Netherlands +200; Draw +190; England +170

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