How England should line-up vs Italy in first Euro 2024 qualifier: Unleash James Maddison, recall Kieran Trippier and give Aaron Ramsdale a chance

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The Three Lions face a daunting trip to Naples to take on the European champions, but the new dawn is an opportunity for a bold and ambitious approach

No England fan will need reminding of the last time the Three Lions faced Italy. After all the excitement and emotion of reaching a first major final since 1966, and at Wembley of all places, the feelings of hope turned to dread as chaotic scenes unfolded outside.

Once the match got under way, it could hardly have started better, as Kieran Trippier found Luke Shaw at the back post and utter bedlam ensued in the stands.

But that was about as good as it got, as England failed to take the next step and their defensive tactics played into the hands of Italy's stronger and more experienced side, who fought back to force extra-time.

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Gareth Southgate was too cautious, not making any changes until the 70th minute, and not introducing the game-changing Jack Grealish until 10 minutes into the extra-period. He was clearly playing for penalties, and introduced Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford in the last minute purely to take spot-kicks. We all know how that ended.

England's pain at coming so close to winning was then deepened by the sickening abuse Rashford, Sancho and Bukayo Saka received after missing their penalties.

A lot has changed in the 20 months since that day at Wembley, and England's team is wiser and stronger as they head to Naples to kick off their next European Championship qualifying phase against Roberto Mancini's side, who themselves surprisingly failed to qualify for the World Cup.

It is, then, time to learn from the mistakes of the final and unleash a bold and exciting side to begin the new era.

Adopting a 4-2-3-1 formation, GOAL picks a team that Southgate is highly unlikely to try himself, but one that would actually play to the strengths of England's best players, who are flying for their clubs:

  1. GK: Aaron Ramsdale
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    GK: Aaron Ramsdale

    Why shouldn't the goalkeeper who has helped take Arsenal to the top of the Premier League be his country's No 1?

    Southgate is fiercely loyal to his long-serving players, and he has continued to keep faith in Jordan Pickford even at the Everton shot-stopper's lowest moments.

    The paucity of options in the past has certainly helped him stick with Pickford, but now he has an alternative in Ramsdale who is flowing with confidence.

    The Arsenal man is better on the ball than Pickford, is far in better form and he has a contagious winning spirit which can spread through the rest of team.

    Contrast that with Pickford, who for the second year in a row, is locked in an angst-ridden relegation battle.

    This England team, which is always scared of taking the next step against the best opponents, could sure do with Ramsdale's positivity.

  2. RB: Kieran Trippier

    RB: Kieran Trippier

    Trippier was one of the first names on the teamsheet in the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020 sides, when Southgate typically would play a 3-5-2.

    He started England's first two games at the 2022 World Cup in the back four too, but Southgate then turned to Kyle Walker, valuing his speed and defensive awareness over Trippier.

    But this season Trippier has been outstanding defensively, the leader of far and away the best defence in the Premier League in Newcastle.

    He has also taken on the figure of talisman at St James' Park, and thrives as a leader, travelling with the team to away matches last season even though he was injured.

    Contrast that with Walker, who has been in and out of the City team this season and landed himself in trouble in a bar earlier this month.

    Trippier is also an asset at set-pieces, and if he takes corners over Harry Kane, then England's top scorer will actually be able to be a threat in the box.

    It's time to bring Trippier back into the starting XI.

  3. CB: John Stones
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    CB: John Stones

    There's little room for debate here.

    Stones is England's best ball-playing central defender and is back in fine form for his club, thriving as a makeshift right-back for Pep Guardiola.

    His new-found confidence in that position means he can be extra useful to England and slot back into right-back temporarily when Trippier goes to join the attack.

  4. CB: Harry Maguire

    CB: Harry Maguire

    In an ideal world, England would have a leading centre-back who plays every week for his club.

    Instead they have Maguire, whose struggles for Manchester United in the last two seasons are well publicised. He has only started 12 matches in all competitions under Erik ten Hag.

    However, he continues to perform well for England and Southgate trusts him. He is also still ahead of the alternatives in this squad, Eric Dier and the inexperienced Marc Guehi.

    England should certainly be looking to the future at centre-back as it is far from ideal to have a bit-part club player in such an important role for his country. But for now, Maguire keeps his place.

  5. LB: Luke Shaw
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    LB: Luke Shaw

    Leaving aside the Anfield horror show, Shaw has been in fine form for Manchester United and is still exceptional in his defensive duties and supporting the attack.

    Competition from Ben Chilwell should and will keep him on his toes, but, given his experience at this level, Shaw still gets the nod.

  6. CM: Declan Rice
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    CM: Declan Rice

    One of the most important players in the England team over the last three years and easily the squad's best defensive midfielder.

    West Ham may be desperately struggling, but Rice remains consistent and his vision and ability to halt attacks will be invaluable at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

  7. CM: Jude Bellingham
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    CM: Jude Bellingham

    The hottest property in world football now.

    Bellingham was one of the top players at the World Cup and is as crucial to England's defence as he is to their attack.

    He is an enormous upgrade on Kalvin Phillips and his ability to lead attacks from deep will be crucial to England becoming a braver and more exciting side.

  8. AM: James Maddison

    AM: James Maddison

    For a player of his talent and consistent performances for his club, it is remarkable that James Maddison has played just 34 minutes of football for England.

    There have been some reasons for that, such as questions over his commitment when he was spotted in a casino after leaving the camp with illness.

    He has also had little luck with his fitness, with a hip problem harming his chances of getting into the Euro 2020 squad while he suffered a knee injury right before the 2022 World Cup, even though he remained with the squad

    But he is having a brilliant season on an individual level, scoring nine goals and providing six assists even as Leicester flounder.

    In the form of his life, Maddison deserves the chance to show what he is made of on the international level.

  9. RW: Bukayo Saka
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    RW: Bukayo Saka

    One of the defining images of the Euro 2020 final was Giorgio Chiellini grabbing Bukayo Saka's shirt and hauling him to the ground.

    The moment looked like a metaphor for how Italian experience and strength was too much for a young and soft England side.

    Nearly two years on, Chiellini has retired from international football and Saka is one of the best forwards in the world, leading Arsenal's title charge with consistently thrilling displays and superb goals and assists by the bucketload.

    Saka was one of England's best players in Qatar and terrorised France for much of the quarter-final until he was bizarrely taken off by Southgate.

    He will be relishing another big international game here and a chance to show Italy how far he has come.

  10. ST: Harry Kane
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    ST: Harry Kane

    No one will have been more disappointed by Kane's penalty miss against France than Kane himself. And no one will be more determined to make amends in his first England match back.

    In the aftermath of his skied penalty at Al Bayt Stadium and the endless jokes about the ball still being in space, it was easily forgotten that Kane had equalled Wayne Rooney's record as England's all-time top scorer earlier in the match.

    Just one more goal will mean he stands alone in the history books. Don't bet against him getting it in Naples.

  11. LW: Jack Grealish
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    LW: Jack Grealish

    It is tempting to play the resurgent Phil Foden on the left, but this ultra-attacking side needs some balance and Jack Grealish has been putting in the hard yards this season.

    He is also more comfortable on the left than Foden, who has returned to form with City on the right of Guardiola's attack.

    Grealish's trickery can get into Italy's head while he can also drop back to support Bellingham and Rice. And with the game stretched later on, Southgate could always turn to Foden from the bench.