Bellingham out, Mainoo in? England XIs to face Slovakia

Jude Bellingham to be rested? Luke Shaw to go straight in at left-back? The Sky Sports writers have picked their England XIs for the Euro 2024 last-16 clash against Slovakia.

Gareth Southgate’s side will aim to put a series of underwhelming group-stage performances behind them in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday but there are question marks hanging over numerous positions.

Does the out-of-sorts Harry Kane hold onto his place? Is it time to unleash Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back? Does Bellingham need a rest? Read on to see our writers’ picks, then choose yours.

Rob Dorsett: Resting Bellingham is a calculated gamble

Resting Jude Bellingham would be a brave and calculated gamble for an England manager who is surely having one last tilt at international silverware.

England came to Germany to win the European Championship. The manager and players couldn’t have been clearer when asked repeatedly about their ambitions.

Rob Dorsett’s England XI to face Slovakia

And I don’t think they can do that without Bellingham firing on all cylinders. Right now, he looks more like a stuttering stock car than a finely-tuned Formula One race machine.

So, my argument is: sacrifice him now, in the hope that England are still in the tournament in the latter stages, when a rested Bellingham can come back into the side and remind everyone why he is one of the best players in world football.

Peter Smith: Trent and Palmer on right side

Kobbie Mainoo is an automatic pick in central midfield after his performance against Slovenia and, hopefully, with him helping to set the tempo and Anthony Gordon stretching the play from left wing, we can see Jude Bellingham finding space to hurt Slovakia, rather than treading on the toes of Phil Foden as he did last time out.

Peter Smith’s England XI to face Slovakia

I’ve left out the Manchester City man because he looks set to miss vital preparation time with his return home. Cole Palmer comes in for Bukayo Saka – who has faded in games – while Trent Alexander-Arnold replaces Kyle Walker – who has too often been missing the end product – at right-back.

Those changes hopefully bring refreshed threat and creativity down that flank.

Lewis Jones: It’s now or never for Luke Shaw

It really is now or never for Luke Shaw. Gareth Southgate has gambled taking him so what’s the point of sticking your chips in without even rolling the dice? The balance that Shaw provides England offensively could make all the difference, so he must start. And then if he breaks down, he breaks down. Tournament football is a harsh business.

Lewis Jones' England XI to face Slovakia
Lewis Jones’ England XI to face Slovakia

Phil Foden showed brighter moments against Slovenia but he has had his chance and flattered to deceive for too long now in an England shirt. Six games at the European Championships, no goals or assists. It’s time to unleash the fearless Anthony Gordon down the left. England have missed a ball carrier that can beat a man and make defenders uncomfortable.

Adam Smith: Why not start Saka at left-back?

This XI excites me. Ian Wright suggested playing Bukayo Saka at left-back, and why not – he’s done it before. There are question marks over all other options anyway.

The Trent Alexander-Arnold midfield experiment hasn’t worked on this occasion but he’s England’s best passer and can muster chances from nothing. So, he should start where he finished against Slovenia – in his familiar right-back role.

Adam Smith’s England XI to face Slovakia

The creative flair and attacking thrust from those full-backs would enable Phil Foden and Cole Palmer to eke out positions further infield, with Jude Bellingham occupying central areas.

Kobbie Mainoo’s introduction transformed England on Tuesday and he’s done more than enough already to end the midfield debate and earn a starting berth.

Nick Wright: Palmer unleashed centrally, no Bellingham or Foden

After such a promising start to the tournament, Jude Bellingham’s form has nosedived. He is clearly fatigued and would benefit from starting this one on the bench. Phil Foden’s disrupted week means it’s Cole Palmer at No 10 with Anthony Gordon on the left.

I toyed with dropping Harry Kane but he gets another chance in the hope that having pace either side of him helps. Kobbie Mainoo joins Declan Rice in midfield.

Nick Wright’s England XI to face Slovakia

Kyle Walker has made a negligible impact offensively, creating a solitary chance in three games. While we wait for Luke Shaw’s return on the opposite side – let’s not rush him – we need more from our right-back. Enter Trent Alexander-Arnold.

I would stick with Kieran Trippier at left-back. He has defended well, even out of position, and could shackle the two-goal Ivan Schranz. He might fare better on the ball, too, with Gordon holding the width ahead of him.

Ben Grounds: Go bold or go home

I suggested the bold move of resting Jude Bellingham ahead of the Serbia opener, and while he dazzled during the first 30 minutes of that game, he has looked exhausted in his last two appearances.

Phil Foden’s departure from camp earlier this week should make Southgate’s call on the Manchester City man a lot easier.

Ben Grounds' England XI to face Slovakia
Ben Grounds’ England XI to face Slovakia

Anthony Gordon, Cole Palmer – in the No 10 role – and Kobbie Mainoo should all be starting, but I don’t expect Southgate to change his defence just yet despite frustration over the left side going forward.

There have been calls for Kyle Walker at left-back while Luke Shaw gets up to full fitness to enable Trent Alexander-Arnold to play on the right.

Kyle Walker has played 27 club minutes at left-back - but ended the Slovenia game in that position
Kyle Walker has played 27 club minutes at left-back – but ended the Slovenia game in that position

But Walker has played 27 minutes at left-back in club football compared to over 15,000 minutes on the opposite flank.

Shaw hasn’t played since mid-February, so should be used off the bench. Along with Bellingham.

Oliver Yew: Saka at left-back makes sense

The surprise at Bukayo Saka being touted as someone who can fill the left-back role has surprised me. It makes an awful lot of sense. England’s left side just hasn’t got going in the absence of Luke Shaw and there’s still no sign of the Manchester United defender being included in the squad, let alone the starting XI. Enter Saka.

Oliver Yew's England XI to face Slovakia
Oliver Yew’s England XI to face Slovakia

It’s a role he has performed before to a decent standard for Arsenal. He has even filled in there for England in the past. Most importantly, he’s left-footed. Against Slovakia, he can do a job for England which can give them a threat on both sides of the pitch, something which has been lacking in all three games so far.

Elsewhere, Phil Foden has been brighter in recent matches but his absence from training this week gives England the chance to do something different. The bright cameos of Cole Palmer, Anthony Gordon and Kobbie Mainoo see them given the chance to start alongside Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane, who are given another chance to find the spark that has so far been lacking.

Sam Blitz: Saka stays on right, Bellingham rested

All this talk of Bukayo Saka being dropped by England should fall on deaf ears. With the Three Lions already a bit toothless up front, why should Gareth Southgate ditch the player heavily involved in both of their goals so far?

Sam Blitz's England XI to face Slovakia
Sam Blitz’s England XI to face Slovakia

Instead, Cole Palmer should come in at No 10 to give Jude Bellingham a rest. England can beat Slovakia without the Real Madrid midfielder and should be ‘for emergencies only’. That may give him a good chance of being his usual self for a potential quarter-final.

Anthony Gordon would balance England’s lop-sided team on the left, given Phil Foden may not start after heading back to the UK this week. Kobbie Mainoo made such a big impact against Slovenia that he could be a breath of fresh air once again.

Hopefully Luke Shaw is fit enough to play 20 minutes at the end, no matter the scoreline.

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