England should play like Newcastle United of the 1990s – Trevor Sinclair

Image: Euro 2024/Trevor Sinclair

The Republic of Serbia is making its debut in the European Championship under its current name. Previously, as Yugoslavia, they finished as runners-up in the 1960 and 1968 editions of the tournament. Despite having a formidable attacking lineup featuring Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic, Ajax fan favourite Dusan Tadic, and Al-Hilal duo Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, Serbia’s recent form has been lacklustre, with only four victories in their last 11 matches.

When England manager Gareth Southgate announced the 26-member squad for the Euros, there was considerable discussion about the exclusion of several high-profile club football players, such as Manchester City midfielder Jack Grealish, Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford, and Tottenham attacking midfielder James Maddison. In an exclusive chat, former England player Trevor Sinclair, who represented the Three Lions at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, commented on Southgate’s bold decisions.

“It just shows the strength and depth of the England national team,” said Sinclair. “I think it’s harsh on the players because they are all brilliant players. Grealish is a Treble winner for City, Maddison had a good season, Rashford has also done well for the national team, but yes, I feel for these players. If I’m being honest, I think the players who have been selected were a little better than the ones left out. As the manager, you have to ensure that you are fair to the players, and in my opinion, the players chosen by Gareth Southgate and his coaching team are the best options for the national team.”

Sinclair anticipated a stiff challenge against Serbia for the Three Lions. “I think the game against Serbia will be a pretty tough one,” he said. “We all know about Mitrovic. He has had a fantastic season in Saudi Arabia; scored for fun. He is always a player difficult to face, both at the club level and internationally.

“The only area where England could be questioned is the defence line. We’ll probably miss one of our best, Harry Maguire, due to injury. John Stones has some injury problems. [Marc] Guehi has done well but he doesn’t have that much experience at the international level.

“I think the Serbians will be rubbing their hands thinking that if we can give the service to Mitrovic, we can score against England. England will have to play like Newcastle from the 1990s, where they’ll have to accept that they’ll concede goals but they’re going to create a lot of chances with that talent upfront.”


England are placed in Group C with Serbia, Slovenia, and Denmark. Given their current squad, they are clear favourites to top the group. But who poses the biggest threat? “I think Serbia has the chance of hurting us the most,” said Sinclair. “They come into this match with a big win (3-0 versus Sweden in a friendly), while we lost our last match against Iceland. They’ll go into this match quite confident. And obviously, the English players are most exposed because most of them play in the Premier League, which is the most-watched league in the world.”

Highlighting England’s defensive issues, Sinclair said, “Just because this group of England players hasn’t played together before, you’re playing a right-back in the left-back position until Luke Shaw becomes fit. So, you’re playing [Kieran] Trippier, probably in the left-back position.

“You’ve got Guehi, who’s got limited experience, and John Stones, who’s had a really chequered and difficult season. Even though he’s a Premier League winner again, he hasn’t played as much football as he’d like.”

Sinclair shared his perspective on how opponents should approach this England side. “If I’m playing against this England team, I’m thinking, apart from Kyle Walker—obviously, we know Kyle Walker is a Superman—let’s get at this defence.”

He concluded by suggesting how teams could exploit England’s weaknesses. “If we can get the ball in those areas and get good players in good possession, we can hurt this England side,” he said. “I think Serbia are the most dangerous team in this group against us, but England, for sure, have to be the favourites and should feel confident about getting through as the group leaders.”