Start Shaw, drop Kane? Key decisions for England ahead of Dutch clash

Harry Kane reacts during the UEFA Euro 2024 quarter-final football match between England and Switzerland
Harry Kane reacts during the UEFA Euro 2024 quarter-final football match between England and SwitzerlandAFP
A little date with the Dutch is all that stands in between England and a second consecutive European Championship final—and their first-ever to be played away from Wembley—when the two nations collide in Dortmund on Wednesday night. However, despite an improved outing in their victory over Switzerland in the previous round, boss Gareth Southgate still has plenty to ponder ahead of kick-off.

After a slow (like, really slow) and steady start to life in Germany this summer, the Three Lions have somehow found themselves in the final four and are finally starting to show some signs of life.

The penalty shootout win over a stubborn and talented Swiss side has shaken off some of the cobwebs and division amongst England fans, with most supporters now keen to get back behind the players, who are facing up to another excellent chance of lifting some silverware.


While their pre-tournament hot favourites tag has cooled somewhat, England are well positioned to reach a final should they overcome a Netherlands side filled with impressive defensive talent and exciting youngsters in attack.

That said, England's last outing and previous run of sluggish fixtures still raise a few questions that need to be answered between now and 21:00 CET on Wednesday.

Drop Kane?

It beggars belief that this is even a genuine question, but many subsections of supporters and media are questioning the current form and effectiveness of captain and all-time leading goalscorer Harry Kane.

Which is mad really, considering he just finished as the European Golden Shoe winner (i.e. the top goalscorer in all of Europe's top leagues) with a tally of 36 after his first season in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich.

Unfortunately, Kane hasn't quite brought that magic touch into the tournament in Germany. England's talisman netted just twice in his five outings, those goals coming in the group games against Denmark and Slovakia.

Kane against Switzerland
Kane against SwitzerlandAFP / Flashscore

To top things off, you have to wonder whether the former Spurs man has fully shaken off the back injury they ended his domestic season slightly short, with the striker coming off in extra-time against Switzerland and not even making it to the penalty shootout at all.

Many argue that the system in place under Southgate and the attacking talents of Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham aren't playing to Kane's strengths at all.

Much of Kane's success comes from dropping deep and allowing pacey wingers to bomb on beyond him. This often allows him to find a silky pass before sneaking back into dangerous positions to receive a final ball.

England's forward #09 Harry Kane (R) is checked on by England's head coach Gareth Southgate after falling on the side of the pitch
England's forward #09 Harry Kane (R) is checked on by England's head coach Gareth Southgate after falling on the side of the pitchAFP

Throughout the bulk of Euro 2024, England have looked to be struggling to penetrate defences, rarely getting in behind flat blocks and, more often than not, failing to create any chances for the forward.

Is it time to drop the greatest goalscorer England has ever had in favour of the pace and line-breaking of Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins, or the power and hold-up player of Ivan Toney?

Ivan Toney, Harry Kane and Declan Rice of England during a training session
Ivan Toney, Harry Kane and Declan Rice of England during a training sessionAFP

No, don't be absurd.

Kane's a big game player and is capable of scoring even when he's not at his best, and above all else he is this team's leader on the pitch. But kudos to Southgate nonetheless for recognising in the last match that his star striker was spent physically and having the guts to sub him off before a penalty shootout in which Kane would've stepped up for.

Two up top?

So does the answer to scoring more goals and providing more for Kane lie in yet another system change?

Southgate seemingly bowed to external pressures against Switzerland by switching up the 4-2-3-1 formation he'd been utilising to match up with the Swiss' 5-2-2-1.

This ultimately worked perfectly as the Three Lions stifled any threats, went man-for-man, and dominated the ball throughout.

Ratings against Switzerland
Ratings against SwitzerlandFlashscore

Things will likely be different now as the Netherlands aren't afraid to attack and will plan to take the game to England rather than sitting back and soaking up pressure.

Does that mean it's time for another system change? Perhaps dust off the old, forgotten English classic 4-4-2, or even a 3-5-2, lumping either Toney in there to hold things up and release Kane, or Watkins to run off him?

On paper, it would work well, although two up top isn't the most fashionable option for top teams these days, and it would mean sacrificing a key attacking midfielder.

Still, against a Dutch backline so strong that Bayern's Matthijs de Ligt and Tottenham's Micky van de Ven struggle to get into, either idea could cause a bit of chaos. You could even stick Jude Bellingham up with him in a second-striker role, which could be fun to watch.

Start Shaw?

Southgate's big squad selection risk ahead of the Euros was his inclusion of left-back Luke Shaw

The Manchester United man is the only recognised player in that position within the squad and hadn't featured in a match since February after enduring another injury-hit season.

He went for it anyway, though, and perhaps hoped to use thefull-back sooner than the quarter-finals when he came on during extra time.

England's head coach Gareth Southgate gestures next to England's defender #03 Luke Shaw
England's head coach Gareth Southgate gestures next to England's defender #03 Luke ShawAFP

So far, Newcastle's Kieran Trippier has filled that void, and while he's made no mistakes, it's clear that opposing teams have targeted the right-footed Trippier, and England have been ineffective in attacking down that side.

For the first time perhaps in the whole tournament, that changed against Switzerland.

Shaw's introduction in the 78th minute immediately restored some much-needed balance to the backline, and suddenly England looked like the side we'd all hoped would be performing at these championships.

Luke Shaw against Switzerland
Luke Shaw against SwitzerlandAFP / Opta by Stats Perform

Even better still, he looked fit, got forward, defended well, and emerged unscathed during his 43 much-needed minutes on the pitch.

Is now the time to start him against a Dutch side boasting tricky attacking talent on the wing, namely Ajax's Steven Bergwijn, who, on his day, can cause misery for most defenders.

With just two games at most left to play, surely now is the time for Shaw to start and see whether it can help England take more initiative in matches from the start.

Guehi or Konsa?

With many of England's all-star cast failing to show their best form for much of the tournament thus far, a lot of positives can be taken from two of their less glamorous names sitting in defence.

Up until his suspension for accumulative yellow cards, which ruled him out of the clash with Switzerland, Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi had been one of the team's top performers, consistently putting in no-nonsense displays and at least settling a few nerves for supporters, occasional slip-ups aside.

Many feared his absence could be a huge blow in the quarter-finals, but Aston Villa man Ezri Konsa stepped up and into the void seamlessly, putting in an equally dominant display at the back with an assured performance that stifled almost all of the attacking threats he faced.

Ezri Konsa versus Switzerland
Ezri Konsa versus SwitzerlandAFP / Opta by Stats Perform

With both players rarely putting a foot wrong in the past few weeks, it does leave Southgate with a decision to make as to who gets the nod against the Dutch, with Guehi probably most likely to return to the starting line-up at Konsa's expense.

But it's a good problem for the boss to have, and at least he knows he can turn to an in-form Konsa should he need to.

Palmer in for Foden?

One of the biggest talking points heading into the Euros was how Southgate could accommodate Bellingham and Foden into the same team in what felt eerily similar to the grim old days of whether Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard could ever function together.

Then Cole Palmer happened at Chelsea, particularly at the back end of the season, and that conversation got even muddier.

While Jude's place in the first XI is unquestionably safe, Foden has laboured at times in a system that doesn't seem to quite suit him as much as the one deployed so efficiently by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Foden pass map
Foden pass mapAFP / Opta by Stats Perform

After winning the Premier League Player of the Season award, many had tipped the 24-year-old to be the one to light up this tournament, but unfortunately, he's been relatively ineffective. Foden has struggled to get much time on the ball and, with growing frustration, has begun to snatch at his chances and fluff the opportunities he has eventually received.

Palmer, on the other hand, has looked like a threat whenever he's been involved, and given more time, could be the one to unlock opposition defences the way England fans were expecting.

A lot can be said for the tired legs Palmer has preyed on, but he's looked incredibly lively when being introduced in the games against Slovenia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Palmer pass map
Palmer pass mapAFP / Opta by Stats Perform

He's also handy from a set piece and his calm opening penalty against the Swiss will have done wonders for an already booming confidence level.

Palmer is clearly the player in form, and he's finding ways to affect games far better than Foden at this point in time, so perhaps Southgate would do well to switch the former City product in for the current one from the get-go.

Minutes for Gordon and Wharton?

There comes a point in tournament football when the cramp starts to kick in sooner than usual, even for elite-level athletes such as modern-day footballers.

Five or six games in a matter of three weeks at this sort of intensity is enough to bring down even the fittest of fitties, and it's a minor miracle that England don't have any major injury concerns or fitness issues to deal with, or none that have been publicly revealed anyway.

A few names in the squad have yet to get any minutes on the pitch. Naturally, backup goalkeepers Aaron Ramsdale and Dean Henderson are unlikely to feature unless the worst should happen to number one Jordan Pickford, although if reports are to be believed, the pair have been exemplary in their support for the Everton stopper.

Brighton's Lewis Dunk and Liverpool's Joe Gomez are also waiting in the wings but are very much behind Guehi, Konsa, John Stones and perhaps even Kyle Walker in line for central defensive spots.

But a couple of names stand out in midfield, and depending on the tactical scenario Southgate may find himself in against the Netherlands, they could still offer something different.

Anthony Gordon has actually had a couple of minutes on the pitch, coming on as a very late sub during the dying embers of the Slovenia match. His freshness could be key should England require a fresh attacking threat or injection of pace on either flank. 

Anthony Gordon of England arrives at the stadium prior to the Euro 2024 round of 16 match between England and Slovakia
Anthony Gordon of England arrives at the stadium prior to the Euro 2024 round of 16 match between England and SlovakiaAFP

The Newcastle winger offers goals and assists and remains a valuable asset, especially against tired legs in extra-time.

Then there's the wildcard in the squad: Crystal Palace's Adam Wharton.

Adam Wharton and Eberechi Eze of England during a training session
Adam Wharton and Eberechi Eze of England during a training sessionAFP

The 20-year-old may only have 15 Premier League appearances and a single, very recent debut cap to his name, but the young midfielder has shown he belongs at this level with mature performances and oftentimes exquisite playmaking abilities in central midfield.

He could be key to helping England see the game out by retaining the ball and making simple, possession-driven passes that can help his side get over the line. It could be a big orange Wednesday for them, depending on how the script plays out.

Follow England versus the Netherlands at Euro 2024 with Flashscore

Brad Ferguson
Brad FergusonFlashscore


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