Football News

Stephen Warnock: Why dropping Harry Kane would be one of the hardest things to do for England at Euro 2024

By Harry Edwards

Published: 10:30, 9 July 2024

Former England defender Stephen Warnock spoke to Squawka about the Three Lions’ run to the Euro 2024 semi-finals.

Warnock commented on England’s switch to a back three for their win over Switzerland and whether Gareth Southgate will stick with the formation against Netherlands.

He also spoke about Luke Shaw’s return, Harry Kane’s performances and hoping for even more from Bukayo Saka.

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Jude Bellingham called England’s game against Switzerland their best performance at Euro 2024 so far. Would you agree with that assessment? And how can they push on in the semi-final?

I do agree it was the best performance, but I didn’t think there was much improvement from the other games. I thought the other games were poor, in the way that England have played, and I thought there was a small improvement in the way they play, but not much of an improvement. So it’s a very easy comment to make that they made an improvement.

But did we see anything within that improvement to give us optimism or hope that things will improve? I think there were small signs of it, but I don’t think anyone’s blown away, are they, let’s be honest. And I think that’s the big thing here at the moment. However, the argument will be that they’re through to the semi-finals and rightly so. They’re slowly improving and you’ve got to peak at the right time, but I just still feel there’ll be a lot of nervousness within the fan base and the media about this game against the Dutch.

Gareth Southgate switched to a back three for England’s win over Switzerland at the weekend. Do you think he’ll stick with that for the semi-final?

I think it’ll depend on Luke Shaw’s fitness, I think that’ll have a big bearing on things. I think if he feels like Luke Shaw can play 70 minutes, which I think is a big ask in international football when you’ve not played for that long, I think he might switch to a back four. But I think the interesting thing is that we’ve seen Luke Shaw play as the left of a three for Manchester United, we’ve seen him do it for England before.

I think it’d be a big ask for him to do the wing-back position without being fully fit. That needs a lot of energy, that needs a lot of legs to be able to get up and down the pitch. I think the shape will depend on Luke Shaw being fit, but I believe he’ll stick with the 3-4-3. I think it allows them to get (Jude) Bellingham and (Phil) Foden a little bit more narrow in the positions that they want to play in, and perhaps that’ll give them a little bit more.

On Luke Shaw, he did get his first minutes in England’s win over Switzerland. Would you start him for England if he’s fit?

I would if he was fit, yeah. I think you’ve almost got to because of that balance on the left-hand side. I still don’t for the life of me understand [the decision]. When I saw the line-up, I think like most people, I thought (Bukayo) Saka would be on the left, I thought (Kieran) Trippier would be on the right. I thought that would have brought more balance to the team and once Luke Shaw came on, I thought we saw a vast improvement of how we played.

I thought that was the sign where we played better, when Luke Shaw came onto the pitch, because it did give us a natural balance. But if Luke Shaw’s fit, I think you’ve got to play him, just for the balance of the team. And if I put myself in the position of being a centre-back and I’ve got a player now that I can pass the ball to, who can drive up the pitch on their left foot. Or you can look forward in the left-back position and play that pass, and not give it to the left-back, who’s Kieran Trippier, who’s going to pass it back to me every time and be reluctant to hit that pass. I think it changes everything.

And Ezri Konsa had a good game against Switzerland with Marc Guehi out through suspension. Does Guehi come straight back into the starting XI in the semi-final?

I think this is a really difficult one, because I thought Konsa was outstanding in the game. I understood it when he came off, I understood the change, but I still thought it was a harsh change to bring him off because I thought he’d been outstanding in the game.

I think Guehi’s performances in the first three games were magnificent. I think Gareth will probably be loyal to Guehi and I think that will be fully understandable. The nice thing is, with those two players is that you’d be happy with either of them playing because they’ve both shown, with not much experience at international level, that they’re more than comfortable. They understand the pressures, they have both excelled at club level and I don’t see an issue with either of them playing.

How does England’s defence deal with Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay?

I think the interesting one with Depay is that he’s a bit of a free spirit on the pitch, and he’s great with certain skill and technique that he’s got. I don’t think you necessarily have to worry about his goal threat in the fact that he’s not a fox in the box type of player, so he’s not going to come to life in the box. I think if you understand how to deal with them individually, one-by-one, and don’t let him turn, don’t let him face you up, I think that’s one of the major things.

But the players know Depay, they’ll understand his qualities. With Gakpo, I think what we’re seeing from the previous tournament at the World Cup, is that this is his best position, wide left. He’s used sparingly on the left for Liverpool, he’s more of a central striker or on the right when (Mohamed) Salah is injured, he’s used in all three forward positions. But what you’re seeing now is that the manager believes that that’s his best position and knows how to get the best out of him. He’s very good at running at you.

But what you’ve got to understand with Gakpo is that the one thing on his mind every single time is to come inside onto the right foot and get a shot away as quickly as possible. So, whether that’s a back three or a back four, the covering centre-half is going to have to step out and make sure that if the full-back or the right centre-half is beaten, that they are ready for him jumping inside and getting that shot away. And obviously (Jordan) Pickford’s going to have to be alert to that as well.

England are about to play their third major tournament semi-final in four attempts under Gareth Southgate. Does he deserve more credit than he currently gets?

Quite possibly. I think he’s done an incredible job, he’s given England fans and England players who’ve been involved in squads, some of the greatest summers that they’ve had in supporting the team and getting to semi-finals and a final. I think there’ll always be that question mark.

If he doesn’t win this Euros, it will be what if we had a manager who was more proactive in thinking, more tactically aware? A manager that you might look back on and think, if you’d have changed things against Italy, what might have been? And that’s the concern, that he could leave England again without winning this competition and people saying what could have been with a different manager.

But I think overall his job as England manager has been brilliant because of the connection that he’s brought back to the fans and the media and things like that. But I’m still of the school of thought that he tactically falls down at times, with his substitutions, his formations and sometimes big decisions of players as well.

Harry Kane has received a lot of criticism from pundits and fans at Euro 2024 so far. What have you made of his tournament, and should Southgate be considering dropping him as some have called for?

I think this is one of the hardest things, because Harry Kane’s just scored 40-odd goals for Bayern Munich and you’re looking at a player who scores goals and he’s done it at the highest level. He’s done it at international level for England. From Gareth Southgate’s point of view, he’ll just be thinking there’s a goal around the corner for Harry because of his capability and he is an unbelievable finisher. And, more often than not, if you want a chance to fall to anyone within that squad, you want it to fall to Harry Kane.

I understand that he’s also the captain, which is very difficult to drop him out of the lineup. But sometimes you have to make a big decision and that’s the point I was making previously is that sometimes you’ve got to make a decision that’s for the benefit of the team, but it’s one that will upset someone at some point.

I’d still be reluctant to drop him, but at times there is an element where I think he can come off earlier and he can stretch the back line. I’d love to see a striker up alongside him. I’d love to see Ollie Watkins alongside him, or Ivan Toney. I’d love to see how that dynamic would work. But then you’ve got Bellingham in midfield who likes to play off the No.10. It’s a very, very difficult decision for Gareth.

Bukayo Saka in particular stepped up for England against Switzerland, equalising and scoring his penalty. How good has he been at the tournament so far?

He’s been great, he’s been really good. I think he’s been one of the best players [for England]. I don’t think he’s been the best player, I think there’s been other players who’ve done well. I think Marc Guehi has probably been England’s best performer overall. But the big thing about Saka is that he’s been the best of a team that’s underperformed, or one of the best that’s underperformed.

I still think there’s more to come from him. I still think that we can do more to get him on the ball in 1v1 situations and isolate him like Arsenal do. I think that’s what he would like as well, I think it’s often quite cramped. And when he gets the ball, he doesn’t get to run at his defender as often as I’d like to see, and as much as we see in th ePremier League.

But I think coming back from what happened at the Euros, missing the penalty lsat time out against Italy, I think what we’ve seen from him is that he’s grown in personality, grown in character and if he can put in a strong performance against the Dutch we’d be absolutely delighted.

Stephen Warnock was speaking to Squawka on behalf of BetVictor.