Alex Keble's Euro 2024 match-ups for opening round of fixtures

  • Alex Keble (@alexkeble) is a football journalist who specialises in tactical understanding, analysis and predictions of all aspects of the game.

Mitrovic v Alexander-Arnold

The only thing England have to fear is fear itself.

Serbia are a gung-ho attacking team that lacks tactical sophistication and as the qualifiers showed (they conceded nine goals in eight games, winning only half of their matches in a very easy group) Dragan Stojkovic’s side are there for the taking – but only if England are bold in their approach.

Any conservatism from Gareth Southgate, any worried hesitancy or attempts to slowly feel their way into the tournament, and Serbia will feel emboldened in their attacking approach. From here, Serbia would play with freedom and confidence, out-pressing and out-manoeuvring England as they swagger into the final third through Sergej Milinković-Savić and Dusan Tadic, the two playmakers who buzz around Alexandar Mitrovic.


Harry Maguire’s absence and England’s weakness at left-back definitely hands Serbia the advantage in this scenario, because Stojkovic will encourage his players to get right winger Andrija Živković on the ball as often as possible to swing crosses into the aerially dominant Mitrovic. Should Serbia turn the screw and pepper the box with crosses you would expect them to expose the brittleness of England's injury-hit defence.

But that is only the worst case scenario. Southgate is often accused of cagey tactics but that is rarely the case in the group stages, and indeed the news that Trent Alexander-Arnold is set to start in central midfield tells us he knows England must assert their authority on this game.

Alexander-Arnold’s distribution from the base of midfield, particularly his sweeping long balls into the channels, should push Serbia back, preventing them from gaining a real foothold in the match. This is the more likely thing to happen, with Alexander-Arnold and Declan Rice comfortably controlling the game and exposing the big holes that can appear in the Serbian defence.

Alexander-Arnold is the right player for this game and should help England take control of a contest all about bravery and intent – and yet, long-term, that might cause its own problems. If he is the standout player on Sunday that will not mean he is suddenly the right fit for knockout games when England will need a more battle-hardened midfielder.

England fans and the media need to get used to seeing central midfield change as the tournament goes on, while Southgate must resist the urge to simply reward good performances.

Nagelsmann’s narrow 10s v Scotland’s resilience

There is a genuine chance Scotland will cause an upset in the opener. The tactical battle here is primed for a smash-and-grab win for the smaller nation, as an attacking (and vulnerable) Germany fights through the pressure to break down a stubborn defence.

Julian Nagelsmann has only been in charge of Germany since September 2023 but already he has imprinted his tactics onto the team, albeit with broader strokes, as is necessary for international football.

That means sculpted possession football and an aggressive high press, both of which inevitably come with risk – particularly when facing a defensive opponent like Scotland, who showed in their 2-0 victory over Spain in March last year (when they held 25% possession) that they are happy to sit back and frustrate.

Steve Clark’s 5-4-1 formation is strong through the central column of the pitch, where wide number tens John McGinn and Ryan Christie drop to create a very narrow midfield four in front of that back five. Scotland, minimising space between the lines and shuffling across in a solid midfield wall, will funnel Germany into the flanks.


That’s a problem for Nagelsmann. His 4-2-3-1 is defined by false nine Kai Havertz dropping into midfield, Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz buzzing around Ilkay Gundogan almost as triple number tens, and full-backs who lack natural width. In other words: this is a very narrow Germany team up against a Scotland side who can squeeze out the middle.

The positional rotation of Musiala, Wirtz, and Gundogan could pull Scotland out of position and cause damage, but equally Nagelsmann’s high-risk tactics will leave space on the counter-attack. McGinn is superb at wriggling away from a challenge to launch a fast break, although it remains to be seen whether Scotland have the pace required to expose Germany’s high line.

Nevertheless if Scotland are at their best they can slow their hosts down, which should get under the skin of a nervous Allianz Arena crowd who have seen Germany struggle in each of the last three international tournaments.

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