Is Gareth Southgate a substitution genius? Every England sub at Euro 2024 ranked and rated

Is Gareth Southgate a substitution genius? Every England sub at Euro 2024 ranked and rated

England are into the Euro 2024 final after Ollie Watkins hammered home an injury-time winner against the Netherlands to send the nation into raptures. Spain now await in the showpiece on Sunday as the Three Lions try to end a 58-year major tournament drought.

Watkins emerged from the bench to score the winner, which was assisted by fellow substitute Cole Palmer. It’s far from the first time at this tournament that Gareth Southgate has altered the outcome of a match with his changes, yet his reputation as a cautious manager who refuses to utilise his subs seems to persist.

During every England game, the cries across pubs, living rooms and social media insist that the England boss make immediate changes by bringing on a very specific player that the armchair manager knows for sure will definitely, 100 per cent win the Three Lions the game. Of course, this is a different player for each armchair manager but the certainty is always there.

Then, the ‘hilarious’ memes of Southgate wearing a life jacket in the shower or a helmet on an exercise bike to signal his excessive caution will be fired around WhatsApp groups, normally accompanied by scathing wit such as “lol, this is so true.”

But is Southgate’s reputation underserved? Here we look at every substitution he has made throughout Euro 2024, rating and ranking each one to find out exactly which changes have been the most impactful:

Made with Flourish

N/A: Mainoo for Bellingham (86’ vs Serbia); Alexander-Arnold for Trippier (84’ vs Slovenia); Gordon for Foden (89’ vs Slovenia); Konsa for Saka (90+3’ vs Netherlands); Gallagher for Mainoo (90+3’ vs Netherlands)

Let’s start by discarding all those substitutions simply made to run out the clock or made too late to have had any tangible impact on proceedings. Of course, there are others (hello Ivan Toney vs Slovakia) that could have found themselves added to this pile if not for last-gasp shenanigans forcing additional play but such is life. No rating.

21. Eze for Trippier (78′ vs Switzerland)

Part of a triple change just after Switzerland went 1-0 up in the quarter-final clash (along with Shaw and Palmer) but probably the least impactful of the trio. Industrious enough and helped out defensively in extra time but limited effect in attack. Rating the substitution: 5/10

T-19. Gallagher for Kane (105’ vs Slovakia); Konsa for Bellingham (105’ vs Slovakia)

Lumped together as both came on at half time of extra time with England leading 2-1 in the last-16 contest. Part of Southgate going more defensive and while both Gallagher and Konsa eagerly harrassed the opposition, Slovakia still came closer to equalising than they probably should have as England just about saw it out. Rating the substitution: 5/10

T- 17. Eze for Saka (69’ vs Denmark); Bowen for Foden (69’ vs Denmark)

Another pair who came on together when Southgate decided to change both wingers with 20 minutes left of the second group game. England were nominally seeking a winning goal and neither man particularly created anything as the game stayed 1-1. Rating the substitution: 5/10

Jarrod Bowen replaced Phil Foden against Denmark
Jarrod Bowen replaced Phil Foden against Denmark (Getty Images)

16. Gallagher for Alexander-Arnold (69’ vs Serbia)

The first Gallagher appearance of the tournament in the opening game as Southgate looked for answers alongside Declan Rice in midfield. Provided the energy he has become known for but couldn’t fully steady the England ship as they clung on for an unconvincing 1-0 win. Rating the substitution: 5.5/10

15. Gallagher for Alexander-Arnold (54’ vs Denmark)

A slightly more effective bench appearance from the Chelsea man in England’s second match as he looked like a noticeable upgrade on Alexander-Arnold and earned himself a (short-lived) starting berth for the third group game. Rating the substitution: 6/10

14. Bowen for Saka (76’ vs Serbia)

Something of a surprise that the West Ham winger was Southgate’s first-choice attacking sub in the opener but he nearly had an assist with his first touch as Harry Kane thundered a header against the bar from his cross. A solid cameo. Rating the substitution: 6/10

13. Eze for Mainoo (84’ vs Slovakia)

Things were reaching desperation point for England in the last 16 when they brought Eze on with six minutes left, desperately needing a goal. As we know, that goal eventually came in the final second and although the Crystal Palace star wasn’t directly involved, his energy and positivity was vital in swinging the momentum of the game. Another tidy display. Rating the substitution: 6/10

Eberechi Eze and Kobbie Mainoo switched places against Slovakia
Eberechi Eze and Kobbie Mainoo switched places against Slovakia (Getty Images)

12. Shaw for Trippier (46’ vs Netherlands)

The frustration felt by many fans that Trippier again was given the starting nod at left wing-back ahead of Shaw for the semi-final was partly eased when the Man United man came on at half-time. Perhaps slightly less obviously impressive than his maiden appearance in the previous game but the balance brought by having an actual left-footer on the left was again evident. Rating the substitution: 6.5/10

11. Palmer for Saka (71’ vs Slovenia)

Palmer’s first (but very much not his last) appearance on this last. As the ranking suggests, probably the least impactful of his four bench displays but still showed real invention with two passes within 10 minutes of coming on as he immediately looked a threat. Occupied defenders, dovetailed well with others and showed why he has consistently been a Southgate go-to alteration, even in a dour 0-0 draw. Rating the substitution: 6.5/10

10. Shaw for Mainoo (78’ vs Switzerland)

Into the top 10 now and Shaw’s introduction to the tournament in the quarter-final after injury was widely welcomed. Despite barely having played football for months, he immediately looked settled and match sharp and his left-footedness gave England the balance they sorely craved. Made a vital intervention to stop a Swiss attack and came through his 42 minutes (once extra-time was factored in) incredibly well. Rating the substitution: 7/10

9. Watkins for Kane (70’ vs Denmark)

Less spectacular than his semi-final intervention but Watkins’ emergence from the bench in the 1-1 draw against Denmark immediately gave England a different dimension. Kane had looked lethargic but Watkins ran in behind, gave defenders hell with his pace and forced a good save from Kasper Schmeichel when he slipped clear. Unfortunate to have to wait so long for another appearance. Rating the substitution: 7/10

Ollie Watkins’s first Euro 2024 appearance was against Denmark in place of Harry Kane
Ollie Watkins’s first Euro 2024 appearance was against Denmark in place of Harry Kane (AP)

8. Mainoo for Gallagher (46’ vs Slovenia)

Probably an under-appreciated turning point in the tournament for England. Having flailed to work out who should play alongside Declan Rice in midfield, Southgate made a rare half-time sub to give 19-year-old Mainoo a chance. Was clearly an immediate upgrade on Gallagher, who himself had been an upgrade on Alexander-Arnold, with plenty of nice touches and linked well with players further forward. Couldn’t stop this third group game petering out into a dour 0-0 draw and the last-16 clash with Slovakia was also turgid, even though Mainoo personally wasn’t bad, but he has gone on to lock down a starting spot and unlock the huge talents of Foden, Bellingham et al. This is where it began. Rating the substitution: 7.5/10

T-6. Toney for Kane (109′ vs Switzerland); Alexander-Arnold for Foden (115′ vs Switzerland)

The two subs made in the second half of extra-time of the quarter-final against Switzerland, once it was clear the game was destined for penalties. Both Toney and Alexander-Arnold were bought on with the shootout in mind but Southgate learned from the Euros final in 2021 and gave them time to adjust on the pitch beforehand, rather than waiting until the 119th minute. But their job was clear – score from the spot in the shootout. They both delivered in style as Toney’s no-look penalty confirmed he has the ice running through his veins before Alexander-Arnold smashed home the winning spot-kick. Superb subs. Rating the substitution: 8/10

5. Palmer for Trippier (66’ vs Slovakia)

The man who appears most frequently in this top five, confirming that he is England’s most consistent super-sub. England had been diabolical for the first 66 minutes of the last-16 clash and Palmer immediately brought directness and adventure off the bench – looking like the only man who might actually fashion an equaliser. Eventually it was Jude Bellingham’s overhead kick that snatched a last-gasp equaliser before Harry Kane’s headed winner in extra time but Palmer was the spark. Rating the substitution: 8/10

Cole Palmer has been England’s most frequent and effective substitute
Cole Palmer has been England’s most frequent and effective substitute (Getty Images)

4. Palmer for Konsa (78’ vs Switzerland)

Brought on with England 1-0 down and the Three Lions almost immediately equalised (albeit through Saka’s solo brilliance). Palmer then led England’s attacking effort in extra time as their biggest threat and then stepped up in the penalty shootout. Everything said about Toney and Alexander-Arnold above thus applies to the Chelsea man as he nervelessly slotted the opening penalty, having also contributed in normal and extra time more than those two. Rating the substitution: 9/10

3. Toney for Foden (90+4’ vs Slovakia)

Into the top three now and on any other day, Toney being brought on in injury time would be consigned to the ‘no-ranking’ section. But Bellingham grabbed that absurd equaliser and then the Brentford striker did what he had been brought on to do, win a clever header to set up Kane for the extra-time winner. Toney was said to be furious that Southgate left it so long to bring him on but ultimately the manager was justified in his decision. He put himself about, offered a target man and hassled Slovakia defenders, before contributing to the defensive effort as the Three Lions decided to sit back in the final stages. Rating the substitution: 9/10

Ivan Toney was said to be frustrated at not being brought on until the death against Slovakia
Ivan Toney was said to be frustrated at not being brought on until the death against Slovakia (Getty Images)

2. Palmer for Foden (80′ vs Netherlands)

Number two and number one will probably come as no surprise… Both Palmer and Watkins were given 10 minutes to see if they could create a winner and stop the semi-final heading for extra time (which would have been England’s third consecutive game to do so). Boy did they! It looked as if Palmer’s moment has passed when he shanked a shot high and wide on 88 minutes but as the game drifted into injury time, he slid a ball through… . Rating the substitution: 9.5/10

1. Watkins for Kane (81′ vs Netherlands)

… to Watkins and we know what happened next. Sometimes as a striker you only get one moment, one chance and you have to capitalise. Watkins did in style, arrowing the ball into the far corner for an exceptional finish that is as good as you’ll see at Euro 2024. Only rivalled by David Platt against Belgium at Italia 90 for the combination of quality of finish, magnitude of goal and drama of moment in England’s major tournament history. The likeable Aston Villa striker’s journey from Weston-super-Mare in the Conference South to the European Championship final was complete as Southgate brought on the perfect man at the perfect moment. You can’t draw up a substitution any better than that. Rating the substitution: 10/10

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