What should England do about its Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden problem?

What should England do about its Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden problem?

Updated Jun. 19, 2024 10:12 a.m. ET

Trick question.

What do you get when you put the best player in the English Premier League and the best player in La Liga on the same national team?

The answer, if you're England head coach Gareth Southgate, is … a bit of a problem.

Manchester City's Phil Foden and Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham were the deserving winners of the respective player of the season awards in the EPL and Spain's top division just a few weeks ago.


And yet, as Southgate's group prepares for its second Euro 2024 match, against Denmark in Frankfurt on Thursday (noon ET on FS1), there are growing questions about how they fit together.

In England's opener, a 1-0 victory over Serbia in Group C, Bellingham more than lived up to the hype, heading home the only goal and generating a tireless, powerful and composed performance.

Foden, however, looked a little lost at times, unable to replicate the swift-footed movements and incisive passes that were his trademark during the domestic season with four-peat EPL title winner City.

"Jude's obviously an exceptional talent," Foden told reporters. "He carries himself really well. He's a leader now. I think he's turning into a leader. I think our link-up play is good at times and I think it's improving as well, and can keep getting better. So, he's an exciting talent and I enjoy playing with him."

Southgate has some options, and finding the right one could determine whether England is able to live up to its pre-tournament billing as favorite to lift the trophy.

[Euro 2024 team futures]

He could leave things as they are, with Bellingham in an advanced "No. 10" position and Foden on the left, plus Bukayo Saka remaining in the right-sided position from where he was effective against Serbia, and hope that the chemistry gets better as the tournament progresses.

Has England become predictable under Gareth Southgate's tactics?

Southgate could also drop Bellingham into something more closely resembling the deeper midfield spot he most often occupied before his move to Madrid.

However, such was the explosive effectiveness of that switch over the past year, that it seems unlikely he would wish to do so, even though it would allow Foden to gravitate more toward the middle.

A final alternative would be to leave Foden out altogether, and use a more natural left-sided player like Chelsea youngster Cole Palmer or Newcastle's Anthony Gordon on that flank.

That would seem harsh given Foden's level of performance during the club season, and Southgate's insistence that his primary method for choosing his squad was the quality of each player's form in the most recent campaign.

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Southgate did have some positive words to say about Foden's defensive efforts, and the remaining group games will likely have a different tactical feel. Neither Denmark nor Slovenia has shown any inclination to employ a congested back-five like that used by Serbia head coach Dragan Stojkovic.

Almost as much of a concern as how the 24-year-old links with Bellingham will be the way he seemed unable to get on the same page as England left-back Kieran Trippier, stifling any attempt at fluidity down that channel.

Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham on England's win vs. Serbia

"I think the first game of a major tournament is always the most difficult," Foden added. "I think it's important to get off to a win and, yeah, we did that. It was difficult at times. Obviously, we had to defend at times and dig deep. 

"But I think that shows a different side to us and if we're going to win something, I think that we have to do that."

Denmark presents as England's toughest test of the group stage. Despite managing only a 1-1 tie in its clash with Slovenia, the Danes are a highly-skilled unit and pushed Southgate's squad close when the sides met in the semifinal of Euro 2020, which was delayed until the following year due to COVID.

Head coach Kasper Hjulmand has an attacking issue of his own as his star forward, Rasmus Hojlund of Manchester United, has scored only once in his last nine games for the national team and missed a one-on-one with goalkeeper Jan Oblak against Slovenia. He was replaced by Yussuf Poulsen with seven minutes left.

"It comes in phases as a striker," Hjulmand told a press conference. "Rasmus always makes a big difference, so it's not a concern, and I am sure the goals will come."

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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