Why Southgate will be relying on old heads to get England off to a winning Euros start

ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott reports from Gelsenkirchen ahead of England's Group C opener against Serbia

If ever there was a lesson that tournament football can bite you badly, Scotland's torment at the hands of Germany in Munich was it.

The hammering was humbling, but even before kick-off Steve Clarke's selection raised eyebrows, and subsequently his choices have been blamed for contributing to the horror show.

Gareth Southgate will be under similar scrutiny when he makes his team public, an hour before kick-off against Serbia.

England's Rugby World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has always believed that selection is what defines you as an international manager; the biggest single impact you can have on the way a contest plays out.

So, where will Southgate place Phil Foden and who will sit in alongside Declan Rice? These are probably the two most important calls the England boss will have to make.

Southgate has said recently it doesn't really matter where his players start positionally, it's where they end up.

But still, his chosen eleven and where they sit on the teamsheet will spark a million conversations.

In an ITV Sport interview last week, Southgate seemed to hint that he will give Trent Alexander-Arnold a go alongside Rice against Serbia.

Alexander-Arnold's passing range and offensive prowess from midfield are exceptional, but even his biggest fans accept his defensive capabilities are less reliable.

Wayne Rooney no less said of Alexander-Arnold unequivocally this week that "he can't defend". Instinctively, it feels an un-Southgate like gamble to play him there.

His alternative options would be Jude Bellingham, Kobbie Mainoo or Conor Gallagher. But if we accept that the Liverpool man is going to start, then that pushes Bellingham further up the field and probably means Foden will have to play on the left touchline - which is not his favoured position.

Bukayo Saka would start on the right with captain Harry Kane on his own up top. Of course, if Southgate went with Bellingham to partner Rice, then that would create a space for Cole Palmer or more likely Anthony Gordon, and it would allow Foden to play in his preferred and probably most effective position.

England fans will be paying close attention to Gareth Southgate's team selection. Credit: PA

These are problems Steve Clarke fantasises about and, in any case, it's the headache the England boss faces in defence that most fans fear is the Three Lions' Achilles heel.

Victory against Serbia will almost certainly depend on the leadership and performance of his most experienced players - captain Kane, John Stones, Kyle Walker and Jordan Pickford.

They are all well used to what awaits this team tonight; their old heads and championship muscle memory will play a large part in any England success.

Failing to win their tournament opener used to be a given for England and always made life an awful lot more difficult.

Not so since Southgate took charge; in fact, they've won their last three, first group games at two World Cups and the Euros in 2021.

So, at 7pm check your social media for Southgate's team. He has an embarrassment of attacking talent at his disposal, many of whom have had sensational seasons for their clubs.

His challenge is to get them all working effectively together, to give them the freedom to continue their form and not to shackle any of their strengths.

Whatever Southgate decides, he won't please everyone, unless of course England comfortably see off Serbia, and then we can park this conversation until the next time.

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