Gareth Southgate took some extra time to finalise his squad this week due to a dozen of his players being involved in last week’s European finals, and there’s some interesting inclusions for the Three Lions as they strive to ‘bring football home’. We break down his squad and who is likely to make the starting XI.
Not afraid to make the big decisions, Southgate has been ruthless in his selection process as he leaves out the likes of Tottenham duo Dele Alli & Eric Dier who have served him so well in the past. One man who may feel harshly treated is Patrick Bamford, given his impressive 17 goals and 7 assists in the Premier League this season – for perspective, Marcus Rashford (who is included) hit 11 and 9 respectively. Jamie Vardy reportedly told the England manager back in 2018 not to call on him unless absolutely needed; whilst that probably is not the case here, one has to wonder if he could provide a different option in attack after another great season with this club.
Flexibility is the key to Southgate’s squad according to the man himself – particularly in defence, as he has been known to alternate between a back three and a four. Explaining the selection headache arising over the right-back slot alone, Southgate said:
"Trippier can play at left-back. Alexander-Arnold can play at wing-back, I think he can play midfield. I've seen James play on the right side of a back three, at wing-back and as a midfielder. Those flexible players who can fulfil different roles will be hugely important.”
So long as he is fit, Harry Maguire will be the rock at the heart of the defence and will likely be partnered with John Stones as the ball-playing centre-back. Behind the defence should be either Jordan Pickford – hero of the 2018 World Cup – or Dean Henderson, who has deputised a number of times for David De Gea this season.
England will play two central midfielders and, depending on the circumstances, possibly an additional “sitter” behind these two; ordinarily this is Jordan Henderson, but given his injury problems this could be the tournament for Declan Rice to impress. In games where England have greater possession of the ball, we may even see an attacking midfielder be further back such as a Jack Grealish or Mason Mount.
Now if you thought that the defence and midfield were strong, it is in attack is where England are utterly spoiled for choice. You’ll struggle to hear people find a consensus on who should start up front – Harry Kane aside – whether it be the pundits on television or fans in the pub. Kane starting is as sure as death and taxes, and he’ll be putting aside all the speculation over his club future as he aims to replicate his form at the 2018 World Cup where he had the ‘Midas Touch’, winning the Golden Boot. He’ll have two, possibly three players in support who will be playing off the big target man and this is where we have the fiercest competition for places. If pace is the order of the day, then the electric pairing of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford are the likely candidates. Jadon Sancho finished off his season strongly and will also be in with a shout. However, when an opposition defence is needing unlocked and the occasion calls for that little bit of ingenuity, one needs look no further than Jack Grealish, should he win his race for fitness. Yet another Champions League finalist in the form of Mason Mount will stake a strong claim for this position as well - and perhaps even stronger if there’s an attacker played directly behind Kane.
And step aside Kylian Mbappé, Erling Haaland…. there’s a new wonderkid of world football! Phil Foden had a frightening season after breaking into arguably the strongest starting XI on the planet and has made it almost impossible to leave him out. Pep Guardiola has claimed that the Stockport Iniesta is the “most, most, most talented player” that he has ever seen, which isn’t a bad compliment considering that he managed the real Iniesta up close as well as another kid who came from Argentina…
Whilst the England gaffer clearly has selection dilemmas in all areas of the pitch, there are admittedly worse problems to have. With the strongest squad since the famous ‘Golden Generation’ of the mid-2000’s, many will claim that there are no excuses for failure here. Gareth Southgate once again bares the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders…Who’d be a manager, eh?