With only two friendlies against Austria and Romania awaiting England before Euro 2020 kicks off, it is difficult to feel the optimism that should probably come alongside the wealth of talent our country has in this sport.
A fantastic season for John Stones, the exciting wonderkid that is Phil Foden and one of the best in the world up top – Harry Kane. We have some exceptional players in our squad, but I can’t remember the last time I was excited by an England performance – and that was no different in our three fixtures over the past week.
So, in 73 days, Gareth Southgate will lead our country out for our opening fixture against Croatia, as we look to build on our 2018 World Cup journey. Despite being rather underwhelmed over the international break – particularly in Wednesday’s win over a Lewandowski-less Poland – I do think there are some stars that have shone throughout and have all but booked themselves a place in Southgate’s Euro squad.
So, who do I think should be receiving the call-up this summer?
I don’t think there is too much debate around the three goalkeepers that will be heading to the Euros, but in case there is any doubt – Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson.
Pope has proved himself worthy of a spot in the squad, conceding only once during the World Cup Qualifiers – although the Burnley keeper only actually faced one shot on target against San Marino, Albania and Poland, so it’s hard to make a decision based on the stats.
Pope’s superb form in the league will guarantee the 28-year-old a place in the squad, but I would like to see Pickford’s performances for the national team take priority when picking the first-choice keeper.
The Sunderland-born goalie had a magnificent World Cup – one that will be remembered for a very long time for the spine-tingling penalty shootout against Colombia. While Pickford may not have lived up to his potential during his time at Everton, if the 27-year-old was to replicate his form from Russia, we would be in a much stronger position. It is also fair to say Pickford’s distribution is one attribute that we would be massively missing out on if he was to be benched – Pope showed he just doesn’t have the same composure with the ball at his feet.
When it comes to the right-back spot, it’s like Christmas Day for England fans. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Ayling… the list goes on.
The dilemma of who to call up will cause debate for years to come, with the omission of Alexander-Arnold having already caused a stir during the current international break. It is very difficult not to feel sorry for the 22-year-old, who has spent a majority of the past few years as one of the best full-backs in the world, involved one of the most exciting sides on the planet.
Trent was unstoppable and played such a vital role in Liverpool’s Champions League and the Premier League glory. Himself and Andy Robertson had become a force to be reckoned with and, up until this year, should have been one of the first names on Southgate’s teamsheet.
If you are going on current form, then it is understandable why he was dropped for England’s World Cup Qualifiers. However, if you are a football fan you know perfectly well what Alexander-Arnold is capable of – especially with his superb crossing ability. The inclusion of Trent is a very easy one for me and I don’t quite think there is anyone else that can provide England with the quality he can.
Perhaps one day the Liverpool-born defender will convert to a midfielder, but for the upcoming Euros Alexander-Arnold should be England’s main man at right-back.
A defender that has definitely done no damage with his performances in an England shirt over the past week is Reece James. He has definitely shown his talent and potential for Chelsea this season and wasn’t afraid to impress on the international stage too.
Despite being a lot less experienced than several others fighting for his spot, the 21-year-old is one of England’s best right-backs and has definitely earned himself a place in our Euro squad.
The pool of English left-backs is much smaller and therefore a rather straight forward decision for me.
Since Luke Shaw decided to transform into the English Marcelo this season, it is been clear who will be representing England in that position this summer – with the Manchester
United defender likely to head to the Euros alongside his Chelsea counterpart, Ben Chilwell.
I’m a big fan of Chilwell, and nobody can doubt Shaw after the superb season he has had after such a tough spell in the north-west. The pair provide each other with some very healthy competition, and whilst I would still start Chilwell against Croatia, there is no doubt the former Southampton man could also do a stellar job for his country.
My centre-back pairing for England is one that I would assume is also Southgate’s ideal choice – but definitely one that you would not have picked a year ago.
Harry Maguire and John Stones have both had very impressive seasons for their respective Manchester clubs – the latter especially. The Man City defender is having such a superb comeback campaign that he is keeping former main man, Aymeric Laporte, out the team.
While Stones did shock viewers with a rather painfully hilarious mistake against Poland on Wednesday evening, I am certain that himself and Maguire will have both solidified themselves into England’s starting XI throughout the Euros.
My only question to Gareth Southgate here is – what about Michael Keane? Everton’s English defensive pairing of both Keane and Ben Godfrey have been brilliant recently and could both arguably have been in contention, but it is clear from Southgate’s most recent selections that neither are. Just one of many questionable choices made by Southgate during his tenure.
England are extremely top heavy when it comes to their midfield. Defensively, we aren’t particularly inspiring. I expect Kalvin Phillips to be in the squad, after making a name for himself with three starts in three games during the international break. However, I would say both Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson will be ahead of the Leeds man in the pecking order.
Henderson – who has been out injured – is quite easily one of the best midfielders in the world and will be one of the first names on the teamsheet despite his absence.
I recently had to be reminded that Harry Kane was England captain and not Henderson, as I simply can’t understand why. Look up ‘leader’ in the dictionary and the Liverpool midfielder’s name will be right there.
Meanwhile, you look at our attacking options in the middle of the park and they are never ending. Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, James Maddison, Phil Foden and – most recently – Jesse Lingard, have been in magnificent form.
Despite missing international duty due to injury, Southgate should have no doubts on whether to call up Grealish to the squad. The midfielder has been a star in Aston Villa’s side since they returned to the Premier League and was able to easily replicate that for England since making his senior debut in September.
Similarly, Foden has proven himself to be one of the most exciting talents in world football – becoming a perfect replacement for David Silva at Man City, despite only being 20-years-old. The ‘Stockport Iniesta’ has easily earned himself a spot in the England squad this season and, unsurprisingly, impressed in the World Cup Qualifiers too.
Previous to England’s three fixtures in the last week, I would have argued James Maddison should be ahead of Mason Mount in the fight for a place in the starting XI. The ability of Mount has split opinion all season, but the Chelsea midfielder was easily England’s best performer over the international break.
The 22-year-old is a superb talent with a very bright future. Southgate should be looking to get him in his team no matter what.
You only have to look at the age of some of these players to see how truly exciting this England squad could be in years to come.
Let’s start with the obvious – Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. There is no reason that these two wont be starting against Croatia, and I imagine both will be very important figures throughout the tournament.
The likes of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are also very easy picks for me. Behind Kane, the Everton striker is our best goalscorer and I would have plenty of faith in him to come on and make a difference if Kane was struggling to deliver the goods.
I also highly rate Bukayo Saka and I think if he hadn’t missed out on the past three games due to injury, he would have had a great chance of going to the Euros. The Arsenal youngster has shone for the North London club this season and will definitely be a starter for England in the future, but with the opportunity to prove himself taken away last week, I can’t see him forcing his way in this summer.
Similarly, Harvey Barnes had been smashing it for Leicester City up until he was sidelined – picking up only one less goal in all competitions than Jamie Vardy this season.Barnes is probably very underrated and has gone under the radar over the last year or so, but – if fully fit – would he have earned himself a place in the squad? He would have definitely been in Southgate’s thoughts, that’s for sure.
It’s a squad scattered with dilemmas, talent and questions to be answered. The likes of Foden and Mount excite me, but Southgate’s decision-making does not. Can we go the distance this summer? I will try and be positive.
My England team to start the Euros (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Trent, Maguire, Stones, Chilwell; Henderson, Mount; Grealish, Foden, Sterling; Kane