Sportsmail’s experts pick their England starting XI to face Croatia on Sunday at Euro 2020

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England manager Gareth Southgate raised eyebrows when he said he knew his starting XI for the Croatia clash on Sunday ‘except maybe one’.  

That ‘one’ is expected to be in attack, though there are question marks surrounding the line-up all over the pitch.   

So Sportsmail’s writers took up the challenge and picked their own teams — delivering a few surprises themselves.

England manager Gareth Southgate says he knows 10 of his starting XI for the Croatia clash

England manager Gareth Southgate says he knows 10 of his starting XI for the Croatia clash 

Raheem Sterling is now an experienced member of the squad - but will he start on Sunday?

Raheem Sterling is now an experienced member of the squad - but will he start on Sunday?

Raheem Sterling is now an experienced member of the squad – but will he start on Sunday? 

CHRIS SUTTON

Starting XI (4-1-4-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Mings, Shaw; Rice; Foden, Mount, Bellingham, Rashford; Kane

Jordan Pickford, with his 31 caps to Dean Henderson’s one and Sam Johnstone’s one, is the best bet in goal.

I’d love Harry Maguire to start in defence but it seems we’re going to have to wait for him to regain full fitness. 

So with Maguire absent against Croatia, I’ve gone with Tyrone Mings alongside John Stones.

It isn’t as formidable a partnership as Maguire and Stones would be, so that’s where Declan Rice comes in. He can provide any necessary protection in deep midfield.

Marcus Rashford is also not assured of a starting spot, but he gets in Chris Sutton's XI

Marcus Rashford is also not assured of a starting spot, but he gets in Chris Sutton's XI

Marcus Rashford is also not assured of a starting spot, but he gets in Chris Sutton’s XI 

Kyle Walker has been exceptional for Manchester City and Luke Shaw the same for Manchester United, so they’re my full backs. Phil Foden simply must start, so he’s got my left wing spot. 

On the right is Marcus Rashford. Mason Mount wouldn’t let his country down in midfield and nor would that confident 17-year-old Jude Bellingham.

In attack is the one and only Harry Kane. Or ‘Sir’ Harry as he’ll become known if he can guide England to Euros glory.

IAN LADYMAN 

Starting XI (3-4-2-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Coady; Trippier, Rice, Bellingham, Chilwell; Grealish, Mount; Kane

So I have caved in. After championing a back four for weeks, the sight of England defending so uneasily against Austria and Romania has terrified me into some back-pedalling.

Remember, this is a team picked for game one and the thing England cannot afford to do is lose. A draw is fine. Defeat is disaster. 

So this is a time for a little caution and a back three with two holding players ahead of them will give England more protection against the most dangerous team in the group. 

Tyrone Mings has played himself out of this team during the last two games while the full backs pick themselves.

Jude Bellingham would make history if he features against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday

Jude Bellingham would make history if he features against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday

Jude Bellingham would make history if he features against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday 

Jude Bellingham gets the nod ahead of Kalvin Phillips for the spot next to Declan Rice because he has been excellent every time I have seen him play, whether that be for England or Borussia Dortmund. 

The Chilwell/Mount axis down the left of this team excites me after seeing them do so well for Chelsea in the Champions League final, while Jack Grealish simply cannot be left out on form. 

Sterling, Rashford, Sancho, Foden on the bench? Decent that.

MATT HUGHES

Starting XI (4-2-1-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Coady, Chilwell; Phillips, Rice; Mount; Sterling, Kane, Foden 

Gareth Southgate’s biggest puzzle as he finalises his selection this week is likely to revolve around the team shape, an issue exacerbated by the injury problems that could rule Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson out of the bulk of the tournament.

While the temptation to shore up the potentially leaky defence that struggled against Romania last Sunday is a strong one, going with a back four enables Southgate to get more of his most dangerous attacking players into the team — specifically Mason Mount and Phil Foden.

I’d also like to see Jude Bellingham involved — and suspect he will be before the end of the tournament — but a centre-back pairing of Stones and Coady requires two sentries to protect them in Rice and Phillips. 

Sterling’s selection on the right ahead of Grealish and Rashford is the most contentious but, in a young side, his experience of three major tournaments could prove vital.

SAMI MOKBEL  

Starting XI (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Coady; James, Rice, Mount, Chilwell; Sterling, Kane, Foden 

With first-choice centre back Harry Maguire missing, it makes sense for Southgate to consider a three-man defensive unit in search of greater stability. 

Walker and Stones appear certain to start regardless of formation, with Conor Coady the frontrunner to join them in defence.

Reece James is exceptional and should start, while his Chelsea colleague Ben Chilwell is slightly ahead of Luke Shaw on the opposite flank. 

Declan Rice is another who is almost nailed on to start and should be alongside close friend Mason Mount, who has the maturity and discipline to play in central midfield.

The big call is over Raheem Sterling. Southgate is immensely loyal and should select the Manchester City star alongside Harry Kane and Phil Foden in attack. The unlucky parties? 

Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham — but what options to have off the bench.

Kyle Walker (R) appears certain to start in defence, regardless of what formation England play

Kyle Walker (R) appears certain to start in defence, regardless of what formation England play

Kyle Walker (R) appears certain to start in defence, regardless of what formation England play

DOMINIC KING  

Starting XI (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Coady; James, Rice, Mount, Chilwell; Foden, Kane, Grealish  

Gareth Southgate has played a flat back four for most of the last 12 months.

But the time — and circumstances — look ideal to switch to a three with Chelsea’s flying wing backs, Reece James and Ben Chilwell, given licence to hare down the flanks.

Phil Foden has to start ahead of Raheem Sterling, as has been the case at Manchester City recently, while Jack Grealish did enough in the wins over Austria and Romania to secure his starting spot.

MARC PADGETT 

Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Pickford; James, Walker, Stones, Chilwell; Phillips, Rice; Foden, Mount, Rashford; Kane  

Jordan Pickford is in goal because there is nobody else and he’s ‘never let England down’.

Reece James is the best full back in the country now that Trent Alexander-Arnold is out, while Ben Chilwell is superior to Luke Shaw.

The first flaw (in my own team) is at centre half alongside John Stones.

Phil Foden's ability coming in off the right is one of England's most exciting attacking options

Phil Foden's ability coming in off the right is one of England's most exciting attacking options

Phil Foden’s ability coming in off the right is one of England’s most exciting attacking options 

Harry Maguire is injured and I can’t trust Conor Coady or Tyrone Mings so, reluctantly, I’ve gone for Kyle Walker and hope his club link with Stones pays off.

Kalvin Phillips plays because Jordan Henderson isn’t fit. Phil Foden coming in off the right is exciting and Mason Mount is simply superb.

I agonised over Marcus Rashford or Jack Grealish, but Rashford deserves the first hour. If he’s not performing, the Wembley clamour for Jack will go through the roof.

And I’ve still got the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham to make an impact off the bench.

MATT BARLOW 

Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Foden, Grealish, Mount; Kane 

Assuming Henderson not ready but Maguire is… solid against the strongest group opponents in a game when most important not to lose and invite pressure. 

Four experienced defenders, two screeners and Kane up front. Plenty of options in the three supporting Kane but these three are exciting and in terrific form.

It is hoped but is by no means guaranteed that Harry Maguire will be fit in time for the opener

It is hoped but is by no means guaranteed that Harry Maguire will be fit in time for the opener

It is hoped but is by no means guaranteed that Harry Maguire will be fit in time for the opener

DAVID COVERDALE  

Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, White, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Foden, Mount, Grealish; Kane

Playing four at the back means England can get more of their attacking talents on the pitch. Ben White may be inexperienced at international level but, in the absence of Harry Maguire, I would be more confident with him taking his place over Tyrone Mings.

Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw just get the nod over Kieran Trippier and Ben Chilwell.

Kalvin Phillips deserves his spot in midfield alongside Declan Rice, although he could easily make way for rising star Jude Bellingham.

Jack Grealish has to start after his impressive performances in the recent friendlies and Phil Foden would be my other attacker alongside Harry Kane.

JACK GAUGHAN 

Starting XI (4-3-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, White, Shaw; Bellingham, Rice, Mount; Foden, Kane, Sterling 

This team is assuming both Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson don’t make it. Sunday might have been his debut, but Ben White looks comfortable enough to get the nod over Tyrone Mings.

I’ll hold my hands up and admit that not going with Jack Grealish from the off is sacrilege. Raheem Sterling has struggled for form over the past few months but still has the ability to stretch a game from wide areas. 

In what is likely to be a congested afternoon against a well-organised Croatia, his running and sharp pressing could give England some joy. Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford provide real impetus from the bench.

Late inclusion Ben White could be set to be thrown into the deep end due to injury worries

Late inclusion Ben White could be set to be thrown into the deep end due to injury worries

Late inclusion Ben White could be set to be thrown into the deep end due to injury worries

ROB DRAPER 

Starting XI (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, White; Trippier, Rice, Mount, Chilwell; Foden, Kane, Grealish 

England can’t be trusted defending with a back four without Maguire. Not convinced by Coady or Mings and though White might seems a risk, there’s a precedent for this kind of thing. 

At Euro 96 we all worried about the raw young defender slotting into the back three with only two starts to his name. 

The penalty miss against Germany notwithstanding, Gareth Southgate did well. Pick the players in form. Likewise, Grealish and Foden over Sterling and Rashford.

ADRIAN KAJUMBA 

Starting XI (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker, Coady, Stones; James, Rice, Mount, Shaw; Sancho, Kane, Grealish 

Harry Maguire’s lack of fitness has created a dilemma. Nobody else jumps out as a convincing alternative to ensure a back four can still be picked so no Maguire means a back three. 

The knock-on effect is one less midfielder. With a back four, all of Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish can get in, with Declan Rice the sole defensive midfielder and Harry Kane up top. 

With a back three it’s a tight call but I’ve dropped Foden out as the front three of Sancho, Kane and Grealish is what I would start the tournament with. 

Foden and Bellingham, though, are pushing hard for starts and would not be surprised if they or Ben White force their way in during the tournament.

Jadon Sancho offers quick feet and burning pace which is a nightmare for defenders

Jadon Sancho offers quick feet and burning pace which is a nightmare for defenders

Jadon Sancho offers quick feet and burning pace which is a nightmare for defenders

TOM COLLOMOSSE  

Starting XI (3-4-3): Johnstone; White, Coady, Stones; Walker, Rice, Mount, Shaw; Foden, Kane, Grealish 

England’s central defence is their weakest suit and it feels safer to start with a back three, especially with Harry Maguire unavailable, and Sam Johnstone is the most reliable of the three goalkeepers. 

Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw provide extra cover at full-back, with Mason Mount and Declan Rice a solid central pairing. 

Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford have been mainstays during the Gareth Southgate era but neither is playing well enough to merit a starting place. 

Jack Grealish and Phil Foden would present far more attacking threat either side of Harry Kane.

DANIEL MATTHEWS 

Starting XI (4-3-3): Pickford; James, Stones, White, Chilwell; Bellingham, Rice, Mount; Foden, Kane, Grealish 

First, a disclaimer: it seems inevitable that Southgate will now go with a back three and that is understandable given how green England look at centre half. 

My issue? There isn’t a combination that fills me with enough confidence to make it worth the sacrifice further forward. 

Teenage star Bellingham has been dazzling in the national shirt and is in with a big shout

Teenage star Bellingham has been dazzling in the national shirt and is in with a big shout

Teenage star Bellingham has been dazzling in the national shirt and is in with a big shout

Ben White impressed against Romania and would adding any of Tyrone Mings (who struggled at times), Conor Coady or Kyle Walker make England so much secure that you’d want to lose one of Mason Mount, Phil Foden or Jack Grealish? Because they can’t all fit into a functioning 3-4-3.

England’s best form of defence is attack. That doesn’t mean being gung-ho. It means giving themselves the best chance of keeping the ball – and hurting the opposition.

I wouldn’t have much issue if Kalvin Phillips played over Bellingham, or if one of Jadon Sacho/Marcus Rashford offered England a threat in behind on one flank. But who to drop?

OLIVER TODD 

Starting XI (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, White; James, Bellingham, Rice, Chilwell; Foden, Kane, Mount 

England come into this tournament with a similar problem to the last World Cup: not enough good centre backs, with Maguire out. So the solution, at least against Croatia in the toughest of the group games, should be three at the back.

Southgate can unleash more forward riches later in the group but for now let’s spend this week getting the defence right. Pickford, Stones, Rice, Mount and Kane are the only must-picks in this team at the moment.

White is a late call to the squad but a better option than Coady or Mings. Shaw has been the Premier League’s outstanding left back this season but Chilwell is in better form so gets the nod. 

Harry Kane is England's talisman and will have his eye on another tournament Golden Boot

Harry Kane is England's talisman and will have his eye on another tournament Golden Boot

Harry Kane is England’s talisman and will have his eye on another tournament Golden Boot

His partnership with Mount, as seen in Chelsea’s key moves in the Champions League final, is worth tapping into, too.

Bellingham has shown he can perform in the very highest-level matches, as has James. Foden and Mount can create everything Kane needs in addition to the wing-backs’ crosses. 

Take advantage of five subs – England have as good attacking depth as anyone – and Sancho, Grealish and Co can audition for the Scotland and Czech Republic games.  



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Written by bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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