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Cole Palmer has given Gareth Southgate an England selection dilemma but can he usurp Bukayo Saka or Jude Bellingham?

Chelsea's Cole Palmer helped his chances of claiming a starting spot at Euro 2024 with eye-catching displays against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland. Is there a place for him in this England team when everyone is fit?

Cole Palmer impressed against Iceland and Bosnia and Herzegovina
Image: Cole Palmer impressed against Iceland and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Cole Palmer's performance was one of few bright spots for England in their 1-0 loss to Iceland. The 22-year-old followed up a goal-scoring full debut against Bosnia and Herzegovina with another eye-catching showing on a difficult evening at Wembley.

The defeat left Gareth Southgate with plenty to ponder ahead of the tournament. The England boss rued their disjointed pressing and defensive openness in his press conference. He also touched on their injury issues and questioned their physical readiness.

But there are question marks, too, around how he calibrates his attack. Palmer, one of only three players to start both warm-up games along with Kieran Trippier and Marc Guehi, will be difficult to leave out having taken to international football so naturally.

Palmer, fresh from an extraordinary season with Chelsea in which he scored 22 goals and provided 11 assists in Premier League games alone, demonstrated his versatility by playing off the right against Iceland having been used in the No 10 role against Bosnia.

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Sky Sports News' Rob Dorsett assesses the 'concerns' facing Gareth Southgate and England following their shock defeat to Iceland ahead of the Euros

It was what he did, though, rather than where he did it, that most stood out. The highlight was the delicious, diagonal cross from which Harry Kane spurned England's best chance. But his performance was full of moments like it. A deft flick here; a drop of the shoulder there.

Not everything came off. He missed a first-half scoring chance when his effort was blocked after an error from Iceland's goalkeeper. He was then unable to capitalise on another two opportunities after half-time, including a gilt-edged one-on-one from Declan Rice's pass.

But those uncharacteristic instances of wastefulness did not detract from his impact over the course of the two games. The dilemma for Southgate now is whether he can get him into his starting line-up when England's Euro 2024 campaign kicks off against Serbia on Sunday.

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Ostensibly, his assuredness both centrally and on the right should help his chances. According to Opta, Palmer played a roughly even split of minutes across the two positions in the Premier League last season, proving similarly effective in both roles, even amid Chelsea's collective struggles.

Cole Palmer was used both at No 10 and on the right flank for Chelsea
Image: Cole Palmer was used both at No 10 and on the right flank for Chelsea

But as most observers were justifiably lauding him as England's best performer in the first half of Friday's game at Wembley, it was interesting to note the views of former captain Wayne Rooney in his role as a television pundit during the interval.

"I think England have to keep the width," said Rooney. "Anthony Gordon has done that really well on one side but Cole Palmer is coming in a lot and it is very congested in that No 10 area.

"I think someone, whether it's Palmer or Kyle Walker, has to keep the width on the right to try and spread their backline to create more space in the middle of the pitch."

Rooney had a point. For all the obvious quality he was bringing, Palmer's propensity to move into the No 10 position, an area packed with blue-shirted defenders, often made life more difficult for Phil Foden, who did not create a single chance and finished the game with a lower pass success rate than any other England starter at 76 per cent, reflecting the extent to which his space was restricted.

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Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett and digital journalist Ron Walker reflect on England's defeat to Iceland and discuss some of the key talking points

It is partly this issue of balance that makes Bukayo Saka so important to Southgate's side. The Arsenal winger, like Palmer, can be devastating when cutting in from the right flank. Crucially, though, thanks to his explosiveness and one-on-one prowess, he is just as effective when holding the width near the touchline.

He was only fit enough to feature as a substitute against Iceland having only recently returned to training. But it is hard to imagine Southgate leaving him out at the tournament, not just for stylistic reasons but for the consistency of his performances for his country.

Saka, excellent after breaking into the team during the last European Championships, despite his penalty miss in the shootout loss to Italy in the final, was arguably England's best player at the subsequent World Cup, scoring three goals in four starts.

Bukayo Saka appeared from the bench against Iceland
Image: Bukayo Saka appeared from the bench against Iceland

That tournament pedigree is coupled with an impressive overall strike rate of 11 goals in 33 appearances for England, making him one of only two players in the 26-man squad, along with Kane, to have scored more than four times for the national team.

It all adds up to make him borderline indispensable on England's right flank and that leaves the No 10 role as Palmer's other option. The issue there, of course, is that, while Foden can be moved out to the left-hand side, Jude Bellingham cannot.

Bellingham, even more than Saka, has established himself as a guaranteed starter in this England team when fit. His drive and goal threat are vital. With 29 caps, he has also built up chemistry and understanding with Saka, Kane and the rest in England's attack.

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Gareth Southgate explained why England's pressing was a problem against Iceland

That synergy is particularly valuable out of possession, the aspect of England's performance against Iceland which was identified by Southgate afterwards as the biggest issue. "We didn't press well. We were too stretched. That is the bit we have got to rectify."

Palmer, of course, is no slouch when it comes to his off-the-ball work. But familiarity is important. Given their experience, Bellingham and Saka naturally have a better understanding of the pressing requirements and triggers in Southgate's side.

Still, though, the temptation to make room for a player as lavishly gifted as Palmer will remain.

Another option for Southgate would be to drop Bellingham deeper, alongside Rice, making room for Palmer at No 10. But that seems unlikely after a season in which the Birmingham City youth product has hit 23 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid.

Cole Palmer impressed during the defeat to Iceland
Image: Cole Palmer impressed during the defeat to Iceland

The likelihood of using Bellingham there is further reduced by the fact Kobbie Mainoo, Conor Gallagher, Trent Alexander-Arnold and even Adam Wharton are also pushing for inclusion in midfield.

And so, while Palmer has undoubtedly presented Southgate with a dilemma in terms of team selection at the tournament, he may ultimately have to settle for a squad role. The good news for England is that, regardless of where and when he features, he has shown he is ready to step in. The strength in depth can only help.

The key dates for England

Sunday June 16 - Serbia vs England, Gelsenkirchen, kick-off 8pm

Thursday June 20 - Denmark vs England, Frankfurt, kick-off 5pm

Tuesday June 25 - England vs Slovenia, kick-off 8pm

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