Cole Palmer emerges victorious on a challenging evening for England, causing an established star to worry about their spot in the lineup for the upcoming match against Serbia as stated by IAN LADYMAN


It was entirely appropriate that as the final whistle blew on a dismal night for England, Trent Alexander Arnold turned to fire the ball out of frustration into an empty net and missed. This was a humbling 95 minutes at Wembley for Gareth Southgate and his team, a night when pretty much nothing went right. It was, in truth, a defeat to a team ranked 72 in the world that could have been heavier than it was.

So what does Southgate do about it? Well he doesn’t panic for a start. This was a friendly and there is a reason teams play them before tournaments begin. These games are experimental and he must hope that this performance does not prove portentous in terms of what lies ahead. If it is, England may as well stay at home.

Other than that, Southgate can only look desperately for positives. As he comes to terms with a dreadful night for his back four and his reserve goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, he will at some point allow himself to look further up the field and at least find some more encouraging questions to answer.

His team had one shot on target here. They played some enterprising enough football in the first half but Southgate’s changes made them worse and not better in the second half. They played largely blind alley football in the second period.

England's 1-0 defeat to Iceland was a humbling experience right on the eve of Euro 2024

England’s 1-0 defeat to Iceland was a humbling experience right on the eve of Euro 2024

But despite a dismal performance, Gareth Southgate must try and search for positives

But despite a dismal performance, Gareth Southgate must try and search for positives 

But amid all of this was Cole Palmer, the best of the England party over the course of two games against Bosnia and Iceland this last five days. As England prepare to fly on Monday the young Chelsea forward has now reached that point where his football is asking whether Southgate dare leave him out.

For a while, deep down, we think we have known England’s front four for the opening game. Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden from right to left with Harry Kane as the number nine.

That remains the favoured and most likely combination. Southgate has picked this squad on form but in tournaments the England manager is strong on familiarity, loyalty and experience.

Nevertheless Saka’s half an hour here as a substitute was his first football since picking up a groin injury almost a month ago. Given the impressive nature of Palmer’s football in his absence it’s reasonable to suggest that the debate over which of them starts next weekend is at the very least a live one.

Southgate will not worry himself over it. Decent problem to have. Tried and tested quality against a player galloping up fast on the inside. And after a night that saw an inconvenience of an Iceland goal grow into something approaching a disastrous embarrassment for England, it is nowhere near the top of his priority list.

Cole Palmer's recent performances in an England shirt are at least one cause for optimism

Cole Palmer’s recent performances in an England shirt are at least one cause for optimism

The Chelsea star's form of late has seen him make a serious case to start against Serbia

The Chelsea star’s form of late has seen him make a serious case to start against Serbia

Despite England's wealth of talent, a well-disciplined Iceland proved impossible to break down

Despite England’s wealth of talent, a well-disciplined Iceland proved impossible to break down

Nevertheless, the attacking options available to England over the month ahead are now very clear and it’s remarkable to think that this time last year Palmer was a squad player at Manchester City with only three Premier League starts to his name. 

His rise to prominence at Chelsea and now at international level has been as unexpected as it has been sustained.

The first surprise – back in August and September – was that Palmer was such a naturally born Premier League player. The second – that became clear over the course of time – was that he was able to maintain a level of consistent performance. That was something that should really have been threatened by his relative youth but also by the general chaos of Chelsea’s season.

But Palmer has already established himself as one of those players who doesn’t seem to get too bogged down by stress or pressure or indeed convention and perceived wisdom. He is one of a new generation of England attacking players who just runs out onto a field and plays what is in front of him.

Here, for almost the entire time he was on the field, what was in front of him was a wall of electric blue. Iceland looked splendid in their eye-catching kit and also scored a lovely goal. Those of us who have reservations about England’s reliability when they don’t have the ball watched that particular piece of play with our fingers in front of our eyes and it wasn’t an isolated moment.

Harry Kane uncharacteristically fluffed the hosts' best chance to level at Wembley

Harry Kane uncharacteristically fluffed the hosts’ best chance to level at Wembley

The most telling indictment of England's display was their unravelling as the game wore on

The most telling indictment of England’s display was their unravelling as the game wore on

Palmer was one of England’s better players in a poor first half against Bosnia and he was worthy of similar comment here. His outstanding contribution was an angled chipped cross towards Kane. 

The England captain made a perfect run off the shoulder of a defender and Palmer’s perfect pass found him. That was where the good news ended as Kane inexplicably volleyed the ball over the bar from six yards out.

We expected England to pull this game round and that they didn’t is a genuine worry. They got worse, not better, as they chased the game. 

Saka, for what it’s worth, didn’t really affect things during the half hour he had as a substitute and when Southgate manages to shake the debris of this jumbled mess from his head and looked ahead to Germany, he has a decision to make across his front four.



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