In tournament football, nothing is as important as the result. So, in opening their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Serbia at the Euros, it should have been a job well done for England. But it was the nature of their display after taking the lead that invited fresh criticism for Gareth Southgate and his team selection that night.

Southgate’s side was riddled with injuries entering their Sunday match with the Serbians. Without a tested midfield partner for Declan Rice or a left-footed understudy for Luke Shaw, Southgate’s line-up would be something of an experiment. And so it was. Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold started over Kobbie Mainoo, Conor Gallagher, and Adam Wharton in central midfield, while Kieran Trippier filled in for the injured Shaw at left-back.

On paper, Both of these options are fine alternatives. There’s no doubting Trent’s ability to pick out a clean pass or Trippier’s experience and know-how at the international level.

The problem is that neither of them played in their natural positions.

For all Alexander-Arnold’s technique and passing range, he has only started six previous games as a midfielder – and those included games against Andorra, Malta, and North Macedonia – and his rawness looked worrying at times. The problem with using Tripper as a left-sided player only brought out another issue with the selection: the Phil Foden dilemma.

Southgate misuses key players

Foden won the Premier League’s Player of the Year award last season off the back of his most productive season yet for Manchester City. But by playing on the left of a three-man attack behind Harry Kane, England isn’t getting the best out of him. His natural inclination to cut inside often leaves Kieran Tripper stranded on the left side of the pitch – a position he doesn’t want to occupy as it is.

In addition, Foden must battle Jude Bellingham for his preferred #10 position. It leads to Foden occupying similar spaces, leading to overcrowding in the middle. The conflict also sees him shuffled uncomfortably out wide to accommodate his headline-creating colleague and leaving Foden fairly anonymous.

To succeed at this tournament, Southgate needs to get the best out of his best players. It means opting to play both Bellingham and Foden where they can impact the game from the start. Until he signed for Real Madrid and played as an auxiliary striker, Bellingham started games deeper as a number 8. To get the best out of Foden, it may mean recalling Bellingham to his slightly deeper role. It would allow both of these huge talents to shine on the international stage.

If he doesn’t then it won’t be long before the fans turn on Foden and start to clamor for a viable left-sided attacking option more suited to the position – either Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze or Newcastle’s Anthony Gordon.

A winning and crowd-pleasing XI

Here’s a line-up that the entire fanbase would love Southgate to use. England could play bravely, dominant, and to their undeniable attacking strengths.

Jordan Pickford would start between the goals. He would be assisted by a backline of Kyle Walker, John Stones, Marc Guehi, and a hopefully-fit Shaw. Declan Rice would join Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden in the midfield. Bukayo Saka, Kane, and Anthony Gordon would form a potent three-man line.

It leaves plenty of room for the squad’s most talented members to stamp their own game on the opposition. The lineup could also offer a natural balance to provide attacking options absent against Serbia.

Tournament football doesn’t offer much time for rehearsals. If England is to get the best out of their talented squad, the time to do it is now.