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England’s international break – Which players impressed and who struggled?

The final international break of the season has come to an end. Next up, after a couple of warm-up games, is the 2024 European Championship.

England are among the favourites for the tournament, but their last two outings won’t have done much to help their case. They produced an underwhelming display as they fell to defeat against Brazil, before snatching a draw in an entertaining clash with Belgium at Wembley.

Without several regular first-team options, manager Gareth Southgate handed some fringe players the opportunity to stake their claim for a spot in his squad. But who made the most of this chance, and who failed to make an impression?

Kobbie Mainoo

Two of England’s three central midfield slots are already filled – if fit, Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham will start for the Three Lions in Germany. That leaves one space available, and it’s considered to be the most up-for-grabs spot in the entire starting XI.

England’s selection of central midfielders is a bit of a weakness. Part of the reason why the likes of Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips get regular call-ups is because there aren’t many top-class alternatives. But a new challenger has arrived recently in the form of Kobbie Mainoo.

Stylistically, he seems like the perfect fit – he can do the dirty work that Southgate values while providing plenty of composure and technical flair. However, many people have questioned whether a player with such little experience is ready to handle the pressure of international football.

It’s still early days, but Mainoo’s performances may have earned him that starting spot. In the most recent outing against Belgium, the Manchester United man was named the Player of the Match after an impressive display in the middle of the park.

The pressure of a major tournament is a completely different level to an international friendly, so those question marks around his age remain. But there are reasons to be hopeful.

Conor Gallagher

Also fighting for that central midfield position is Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher. He started against Brazil but was unfortunately unable to have the same impact.

Gallagher is a useful player off the ball. His energy is unmatched, and he’s always willing to press and make a tackle. These are traits that Southgate has trusted in Henderson and Phillips.

However, he is a noticeable step down from Mainoo in possession. Aside from one early chance created for Ollie Watkins, the 24-year-old was sloppy on the ball, making a mess of simple passes on multiple occasions.

This will be a cause for concern if England want to play games on the front foot. Control in midfield is vital for top sides, and his lack of ball retention could prove to be a problem.

Anthony Gordon

The left-wing spot in England’s starting line-up also remains open. Phil Foden has played there several times, but many people believe he is more effective centrally or on the right.

Meanwhile, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford have big reputations but arguably haven’t done enough to justify them.

Anthony Gordon has been suggested for this position, having enjoyed a fantastic season for Newcastle United. The former Everton man made his international debut this week and has done little harm to his chances of going to Germany.

The winger often looked like the Three Lions’ most threatening player against Brazil. He was direct and dangerous and twice came close to getting on the scoresheet.

Ivan Toney

The case for Harry Kane’s back-up is an interesting one. Ollie Watkins has undoubtedly been the second-best English striker this season. However, Ivan Toney seems like a more natural back-up for the Bayern Munich talisman.

This creates a fascinating dilemma. Is it better to have a like-for-like replacement on the bench or someone offering something different?

Watkins and Toney have had their chances to stake their claim for a spot in the squad over the past few days. Toney gave a better account of himself.

The Aston Villa striker often looked isolated up front against Brazil. He spurned one glorious chance early on and was otherwise unable to make much of an impact.

However, he offered more in his cameo appearance against Belgium, winning the ball back in the lead-up to Bellingham’s late equaliser.

By contrast, Toney made things very difficult for the Belgian backline. He linked up well, got into plenty of good areas, won a penalty and stuck it away confidently.

This debate shouldn’t be settled based on two games. However, with no more international fixtures left to play before the squad is selected, these matches will be freshest in the manager’s mind. Toney may have just swung the balance in his favour.

Ben Chilwell

Luke Shaw was one of a few regular starters absent, and there are doubts over whether he will be fit for the summer. Ben Chilwell seems like the next-best English left-back.

However, it’s not that simple for the Chelsea man. Kieran Trippier, Levi Colwill and Joe Gomez are all capable of playing in this position despite not being natural left-backs.

Chilwell had the chance to establish himself as Shaw’s replacement but failed to deliver. He was singled out for criticism against Brazil after several wayward passes, crosses and shots.

His display against Belgium was less maligned, but still not enough to compensate for his previous performance.

Lewis Dunk

Of the entire England squad, no one had a worse week than Lewis Dunk. With Marc Guehi unavailable and Harry Maguire and John Stones picking up knocks, the Brighton & Hove Albion centre-back had a chance to prove himself.

Unfortunately, he looked completely out of his depth. His weak header handed possession to Brazil in the build-up to Endrick’s winner before another error allowed Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku to cross for Youri Tielemans to nod home.

By contrast, Ezri Konsa made his Three Lions debut and looked far more assured. He performed admirably against Vinicius Junior and was the best of a makeshift defence against Belgium. Additionally, his versatility could make him a vital asset in a 23-man squad.

The squad should not be picked based on two friendlies. However, when fringe players get an opportunity to impress, they must take it.

Konsa gave a good account of himself, while Dunk didn’t. The latter may have played himself out of the squad.

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