Now is the time for the REAL England to turn up. Do so, and they can blow Slovakia away, writes GRAEME SOUNESS

Sunday isn’t about ‘mighty’ Slovakia, a country with a 5.4million population, around half that of London, it’s about ‘mighty’ England turning up.

If the true England we know, with great attacking players, finally shows itself, then we don’t need to be concerned about Slovakia, England should win with goals to spare.

In my seven years at Liverpool, I can only remember us paying special attention to the opposition once. That was the 1981 European Cup semi final in Munich when Sammy Lee was asked to go man for man on Bayern Munich great Paul Breitner. On every other occasion it was: ‘don’t worry about the opposition, concentrate on getting your own game right’.

England shouldn’t be worrying about the so-called lesser lights. But so far we have witnessed three predominantly uninspiring, miserable games where statistics tell us England have mustered ten attempts on target. Ten!

So what that tells us is, now is not the time for loyalty from Gareth Southgate.

England are gearing up to face Slovakia in the round of 16 on Sunday, having topped Group C

England are gearing up to face Slovakia in the round of 16 on Sunday, having topped Group C

Despite being unbeaten at the Euros so far, England's performances have been unconvincing

Despite being unbeaten at the Euros so far, England’s performances have been unconvincing

Mail Sport columnist Graeme Souness insists England need to make changes in the knockouts

Mail Sport columnist Graeme Souness insists England need to make changes in the knockouts

England haven’t performed and they need to make changes.

Time is not your friend in tournament football so you can’t keep waiting for players to hit form.

I said it last week and I will re-iterate it again, England need to put Phil Foden behind Harry Kane, make Jude Bellingham more aware of his defensive duties alongside Declan Rice and bring Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer onto the wide areas.

They huffed and puffed against Slovenia, but didn’t threaten the goal and why? Because, simply put, their creative players didn’t create and give any ammunition for Kane to score the goals.

You are talking about one of the top goalscorers in Europe. He is a goal machine who scored for fun in the Premier League then went to the Bundesliga and carried on breaking scoring records there, so Kane is not the problem. At the moment he has not had the supply. He needs the clever and cute passing from the creative players that are on the field.

That hasn’t happened but the other night, in the short period they were on the pitch, Gordon and Palmer brought a far better energy to the wide areas than we have seen before. We saw the difference from two players who have been bang in form for their clubs this season.

Under Eddie Howe, Gordon has come on in leaps and bounds this year. His dribbling skills have never been in doubt but he is showing he understands the other side of the game, the defensive part, the hard yards.

It’s obvious another reason he should start is to get more out of Kieran Trippier.

England fans threw plastic cups towards Gareth Southgate after the 0-0 draw with Slovenia

England fans threw plastic cups towards Gareth Southgate after the 0-0 draw with Slovenia

Mail Sport launched a campaign - We're Backing England - to get behind the boys in Germany

Mail Sport launched a campaign – We’re Backing England – to get behind the boys in Germany 

The Three Lions are trying to keep spirits high in camp after coming under significant criticism

The Three Lions are trying to keep spirits high in camp after coming under significant criticism

He’s not been at his best, a right-footed player at left-back, but he’s played there before. Gordon knows him inside out. That relationship, the understanding they have from training with each other every day, will only benefit England.

I said Palmer would come on as a substitute and make such an impression that he would give his manager a headache, well that time is now. He has to start.

And as for Foden, he is the Premier League Player of the Year, ask him where he wants to play and it will be more central than the wide areas, behind Kane.

Football is quite simple, you want your best players on the ball as much as you possibly can and centrally is where he will do the damage for England. Kane will benefit enormously from his intelligent play and we have to underline the goal threat Foden carries himself – he scored 28 goals last season for club and country.

Harry Kane isn't the problem. He's a proven goalscorer and needs more service in the team

Harry Kane isn’t the problem. He’s a proven goalscorer and needs more service in the team

Palmer is knocking on the door for his first start at <a href=Euro 2024 ahead of Sunday’s clash with Slovakia” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%”>

Gordon could link up well with Newcastle team-mate and England's stand-in left-back Kieran Trippier

Cole Palmer (left) and Anthony Gordon (right) impressed off the bench against Slovenia

Dropping Jude Bellingham (above) back to free up space for Phil Foden could pay dividends

Dropping Jude Bellingham (above) back to free up space for Phil Foden could pay dividends

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I can understand that Southgate will be reluctant to ask Bellingham to change his attacking instincts on the back of a season when he has been Real Madrid’s top scorer in La Liga but I do think he is more than capable of being a disciplined midfield player alongside Rice without diminishing his goal threat too much. 

He has the talent and athleticism to play in any of the roles a modern midfield player is asked to perform today.

I was surprised to hear him talking about being ‘dead’ at the end of the Slovenia game but that is more psychological than physical. He has had an exciting start to his football life in Spain, a season that culminated in him winning the Champions League, it can be tiring mentally but as you get older your brain will adjust and deal with the demands of professional football at the highest level. He will cope.

The indications from the training camp though are that Southgate may decide on a different partner for Rice.

He has tried Trent Alexander-Arnold, Conor Gallagher then introduced Kobbie Mainoo. None have been the correct one in my opinion.

My concern with Mainoo is that he empties the centre of midfield too often. I have watched him play for Manchester United and England and he is exceptional with the ball at his feet but he has yet to show he understands all the disciplines of the position. Against the better teams, I would worry Rice would be left isolated.

I maintain, that out of the two starlets, Mainoo and Adam Wharton, it is the Crystal Palace boy who has a better understanding of the defensive duties of a midfield role.

Whoever Southgate selects, he needs the real England to turn up.

Now is the time to block out all the criticism that has been coming their way and show the qualities they have shown for their club sides over the past nine months. The truly big players are mentally tough, now is the time to show that England

Man City's Foden was arguably England's brightest attacking spark against Slovenia last week

Man City’s Foden was arguably England’s brightest attacking spark against Slovenia last week

Kobbie Mainoo (centre) likes to drive forward and could leave concerning gaps in the midfield

Kobbie Mainoo (centre) likes to drive forward and could leave concerning gaps in the midfield

 

Stars get too much flak? Deal with it! 

England players were a bit put out after coming under criticism this week. It comes as Germany’s Toni Kroos also bemoaned that his country’s reaction to their draw against Switzerland had been treated like a 3-0 defeat. My answer is: ‘Deal with it’.

Modern players get off lightly.

I accept there is more interest in football now with all the different platforms and social media but it’s a small price to pay when you are earning £100,000 or £200,000 a week, and they would do well to remind themselves of that.

Footballers in this country don’t get criticised anywhere near as much as they do in other countries or indeed get as much stick as previous generations. Now it is more about how the managers or coaches are to blame: ‘It was the tactics’, ‘he picked the wrong team’.

So if every two years while with your country you are exposed to more scrutiny then I don’t think it is a big issue. That’s the price on the ticket when you’re an international footballer.

England's players have heavily criticised by pundits and fans after a lacklustre group stage

England’s players have heavily criticised by pundits and fans after a lacklustre group stage

Gary Neville (left) defended the 'football criticism' aimed at England's stars after their poor performances at the Euros. Pictured: Neville, Ange Postecoglou (centre) and Roy Keane (right)

Gary Neville (left) defended the ‘football criticism’ aimed at England’s stars after their poor performances at the Euros. Pictured: Neville, Ange Postecoglou (centre) and Roy Keane (right)

I experienced it at my first major tournament: the World Cup in Argentina, 1978. We’d gone there with the hype that we would win it, which was never a reality. We lost our opening game to Peru, drew with Iran then needed to beat Holland, the eventual finalists, by three clear goals but only managed to win 3-2. During the whole tournament, the flak was flying but it never left a mark on me.

We got criticised with club and country, but you deal with it and understand there are a lot more benefits to being a professional footballer.

England’s players would do well to remember the same.

 

Ruud reunion will benefit United 

Ruud van Nistelrooy returning to Old Trafford can only be good news for Manchester United.

A true footballing person who enjoyed a fantastic playing career will be important going forward.

Ruud van Nistelrooy is on course to seal a sensational return to Manchester United as a coach

Ruud van Nistelrooy is on course to seal a sensational return to Manchester United as a coach

The former Dutch international made 150 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 95 goals

The former Dutch international made 150 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 95 goals 

You would like to think players such as Rasmus Hojlund and Marcus Rashford, if they remain there, would tap into his knowledge and learn from someone who was a fabulous striker.

However, I’d re-iterate, for all the changes to coaching staff, the most important aspect Manchester United get right this summer will be their recruitment. That will determine how long Erik ten Hag and his backroom team remain in charge.

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