Rio Ferdinand names two stars England needed v Serbia as Arsenal icon tells regular to ‘step up’

Gareth Southgate's substitutions in England's win over Serbia have been criticised

Gareth Southgate's substitutions in England's win over Serbia have been criticised

Rio Ferdinand feels England could have made their victory over Serbia far more comfortable had Gareth Southgate turned to two much-needed stars off the bench, while Cesc Fabregas has branded one regular’s performance as ‘underwhelming’ and that if needs to improve if the Three Lions are to win Euro 2024.

Gareth Southgate’s men started their opening game in Gelsenkirchen in control and scored a deserved opener after 13 minutes when star boy Jude Bellingham stooped to power home an excellent header after Bukayo Saka’s cross had deflected up into his path. And while England saw a lot of the ball thereafter, they could not extend their advantage as control of the game eventually passed to their opponents.

Indeed, with former Southampton and Ajax man Dusan Tadic pulling the strings, Serbia enjoyed a strong second half and applied plenty of pressure without creating too many meaningful chances, though could consider themselves unlucky not to score when Jordan Pickford was needed to push over a snap-shot from Dusan Vlahovic from outside the area.

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Southgate did try and help England wrestle back some control with his substitutes – Conor Gallagher, Jarrod Bowen and Kobbie Mainoo all being introduced for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Saka and Bellingham, respectively.

Gallagher arrived with 20 minutes left, stepping on for the ineffective Alexander-Arnold, while Mainoo came on with 86 minutes on the clock.

Ferdinand, though, questioned the timing of Southgate’s changes and also felt the England boss missed a trick by not turning to another man off the bench in Chelsea creator Cole Palmer, who he feels could have provided much more control in tight areas.

Ferdinand wanted England to use two players more

“The game needed a bit more control,” Ferdinand told BBC One at full-time.

“Where are the players that can do that? Kobbie Mainoo maybe yes, [come on] a bit earlier if need be.

“But also someone like Cole Palmer who has got that bit of swagger and arrogance to say give me that ball. The way Tadic came on for Serbia, he came on and said give me the ball, I will be that outlet for you guys’.

England did hit the crossbar through a header by Harry Kane after a good cross from Bowen, though chances for England after the break were few and far between.

Fabregas also feels England sent Serbia a message with their subs that showed they were happy to settle for a draw and feels Southgate could have done things differently.

“If you send the message in putting in a defensive midfielder or an extra defender to cover the result, you will as a player feel it,” Fabregas said.

“Mentally you start going back, dropping more. But instead if you put an offensive player, Palmer let’s say, up the pitch and controlling the ball in the final third, I think the players get so much more comfortable.”

England’s campaign continues on Thursday when they take on Denmark in Frankfurt and they will need a much-improved display if they are to secure their passage through to the quarter-finals.

Fabregas names England star who must ‘step up’

However, one man who failed to bring his impressive Premier League form to the big stage on Sunday evening was Manchester City star Phil Foden.

He was unable to create anything in the first period with all England’s attacks coming down the right flank. And while he improved a little after the break, it was not enough to prevent Fabregas from describing his performance as ‘underwhelming’.

“It’s about if you want the ball enough to make the difference. Do you enjoy getting the ball under pressure,” Fabregas said.

“When England played their best football it was when Serbia allowed them to have the ball. In the second half when they start to get pressed a little bit more, we start to see Foden hitting the ball 40 yards without looking, Trent [Alexander-Arnold] too.

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“You will never see Xavi or Andres Iniesta or the top players of the last 15 years do that. You need to take responsibility.

“I did think the second half was a little bit underwhelming, And I think players like Foden need to step up. This is the time for them to grow in big tournaments.

Foden notched up 19 goals and eight assists this season just gone as he was crowned Player of the Year.

However, with his influence limited in Gelsenkirchen, Micah Richards feels Southgate needs to find a system that gets the best out of Foden AND Bellingham if England are to win.

“It makes me sad that a player of his quality is just in and out of the game,” he said when asked about Foden. “It’s just disappointing we’re not able to get the best out of him.”