WITH the FA having announced that England’s two warm-up games ahead of this summer’s European Championships will take place at the Riverside, thoughts are turning to who will make Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad for the Euros. The England boss has a number of difficult decisions to make – here’s who I would be selecting if the choice was mine…
Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Dean Henderson
(Missing out: Fraser Forster)
The decision over England’s goalkeepers is by far the easiest that Southgate faces. Some will argue that two goalkeepers are sufficient for a tournament squad, but no international manager would want to put themselves in a position where an injury meant they were unable to name a keeper on the bench. As is convention, Southgate will select three.
Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson will be England’s triumvirate, and for all that he is prone to the occasional serious error, the former would still be my number one.
Harry Maguire, John Stones, Conor Coady, Tyrone Mings, Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell
(Missing out: Kieran Trippier, Reece James, Eric Dier, Michael Keane, Joe Gomez, Aaron Wan-Bissaka)
Given that he will want to have the option of playing with five at the back, Southgate might well decide to select nine defenders. I would argue that England have enough versatile players to mean that eight defenders are sufficient, with the ability to switch formations still retained.
I’d choose four out-and-out centre-halves, with John Stones and Harry Maguire forming England’s first-choice pairing despite the former’s error against Poland. In reserve, Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings have successfully bedded themselves into the international set-up in the last few months, and get the nod ahead of Michael Keane and Joe Gomez.
One of Southgate’s toughest decisions will come at right-back, with a number of high-profile candidates available. Kyle Walker’s ability to play as part of a central-defensive three secures his place, and for all that Southgate clearly has misgivings about Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive capabilities, I’d find it impossible to leave out the Liverpool man. That might be harsh on Reece James and Kieran Trippier, but while his form might have dipped this season, I’d still have Alexander-Arnold ahead of both of them.
On the opposite flank, Luke Shaw’s renaissance over the last 12 months would earn him a starting spot in my side, with Ben Chilwell accompanying him as cover.
Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham, James Maddison, James Ward-Prowse
(Missing out: Kalvin Phillips, Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Jesse Lingard, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Harry Winks)
If he plays a back four, Southgate will almost certainly select two defensive-midfielders in the vast majority of England’s games. I think that’s unnecessarily defensive, especially in the group stage, so the make-up of my midfield selections is tilted more towards attack than defence.
Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson will both go provided they shake off their current injury issues, and they remain England’s best defensive pivots. Southgate will almost certainly take Kalvin Phillips too, but assuming Rice’s injury issues clear up, I’d leave the Leeds man at home.
There has to be space for Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish, three players who have the potential to make a massive impact this summer. As my wildcard selection, I’d also throw Jude Bellingham into the midfield mix, even though he does not turn 18 until the end of June and only made his England debut last November. Any doubts about Bellingham’s ability to handle himself at the highest level were dispelled by his superb Champions League display against Manchester City, and I’d select him ahead of his Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jadon Sancho.
With England’s formation favouring attacking midfielders rather than out-and-out centre-forwards, I’d select two more midfielders in the squad and restrict myself to just four forwards. For all that he looks like missing out when Southgate makes his final cut, I’d take James Maddison. The Leicester man provides the kind of creativity that England were crying out for as they exited the last World Cup against Croatia, and I’d have him ahead of Jesse Lingard.
My final midfield pick would be James Ward-Prowse, partly because of his set-piece capabilities, but also because, with no Phillips in the squad, he could sit slightly deeper if something was to happen to Rice or Henderson.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Dominic Calvert-Lewin
(Missing out: Ollie Watkins, Tammy Abraham, Patrick Bamford, Callum Wilson, Mason Greenwood)
The first three forward picks are no-brainers, with Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford certain to be part of Southgate’s squad, and having every chance of being in the starting line-up for England’s opening group game against Croatia.
Kane is pretty much irreplaceable, but someone has to provide cover for the England skipper, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin has established himself as the best of the rest thanks to his performances with both club and country over the last 12 months. He’s certainly ahead of Ollie Watkins, who wouldn’t make my squad.