There are now just over three months to go until the postponed 2020 UEFA European Championships and just one international break between now and the end of the season. There will be a number of players doing all they can to secure a place in Gareth Southgate’s 23-man England squad in that time, with the squad far from guaranteed. If a place in a highly competitive squad wasn’t motivation enough, the final of the tournament is due to be played at Wembley; the home of English football.
Assuming that everyone is fit come the tournament in June, bar the likes of James Justin who are definitely ruled out through injury, this post looks at who should make Southgate’s squad if current form continues. One key consideration for this will be the system and the players that fit the way England are likely to play. In recent international fixtures Southgate has reverted to a back three, the system that brought so much joy in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After being beaten by Croatia in the semi-finals of that tournament, England will be desperate to get to the final this summer.
While Jordan Pickford has had some troubles with his club form since the 2018 World Cup, he has never let his country down. He performed heroics in England’s semi-final run in Russia and memories of his penalty shoot-out performance against Colombia mean he has credit in the bank in an England shirt. His distribution also sets him apart from his competitors for the number 1 shirt.
Nick Pope is a solid and reliable keeper who is a brilliant shot stopper. He has 35 Premier League clean sheets in 100 appearances which is a fine record for a goalkeeper of a club used to finding themselves in the lower reaches of the table. Despite his four England caps, Pope has been around the England set-up for a while now and was actually a member of the 2018 World Cup squad. At 28, It feels like it is now or never for Pope to push for a starting role.
At 23 years-old Dean Henderson is a youngster in goalkeeping terms and yet he is highly ambitious and will believe he is ready to be England’s first-choice ‘keeper. Henderson decided against going out on loan again this season in order to stake a claim for David De Gea’s place at Manchester United and now, with De Gea unavailable for personal reasons, Henderson has his chance. This could be the turning point Henderson has waited for at United and he will be determined not to relinquish the position. Should he continue as United’s number 1 he will have every chance of dislodging Pickford for England.
Harry Maguire has received his fair share of criticism over the past couple of seasons following his move to Manchester United. The heavily reported incident in Greece also did not help matters. Since then, Maguire has kept his head down and concentrated on his football and his performances have benefitted immensely. When Maguire is good he is very good and his presence in both boxes is a real asset for England. Maguire is a player that Southgate trusts and he is a leader, taking the Manchester United captaincy in his first season at the club. If Maguire is fit he will play.
After the highs of the 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia came the low of seemingly being deemed surplus to requirements for John Stones. Pep Guardiola omitted Stones from his Manchester City side due to a lack of trust in the defender which subsequently led Southgate to have no choice but to leave the centre-back out of his England squad due to lack of game time. However, Stones’ career has seen a real revival this season, forming a formidable partnership with Ruben Dias at the heart of the City defence. On current form, Southgate cannot ignore Stones any longer.
It is expected that Joe Gomez will be fit again by the summer, but whether he will have enough match sharpness may well be another matter. If he can prove his fitness between now and the end of the season then it is highly likely he will have a spot in Southgate’s squad waiting for him. He was the perfect partner for Virgil Van Dijk at Liverpool in their Premier League title win last season and is a very good defender, whilst also being reasonably comfortable on the ball. He struggles at times without Van Dijk by his side so will need vocal players around him should he fit into England’s backline.
The solid displays of Everton pair Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey may well have caught Southgate’s eye, but Tyrone Mings is still expected to be just ahead of them in the pecking order. Mings has had a fine season himself for a revitalised Aston Villa side and his club defensive partner Ezri Konsa could even be in with a chance of earning a call-up, although he is running out of time to impress with this month’s international break the last before the summer. Mings has a towering presence and loves to command the back line. The fact that he is left-footed also works in his favour as it brings balance to the team, especially in a back three.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been one of the stand out members of Liverpool’s all conquering side over the last three seasons. His technical ability is up there with the best despite his youth and he is one of the trailblazers that is reinventing the role of a full-back. Despite this, it feels like the 22-year-old’s England career is yet to really get going. Southgate has trusted Kieran Trippier a lot in his tenure and Kyle Walker has also played his part. Right-back is a position where England are blessed with options and Alexander-Arnold must now kick on and make the position his own. The area where Alexander-Arnold may need to earn Southgate’s trust is in his defensive work. Improve on this and he will be England’s right-back for years to come.
In stark contrast to the right-back position, England lack depth at left-back. Therefore, Luke Shaw’s fine season so far could be a blessing for Southgate. Shaw seems to finally be realising his potential and is consistently playing at Manchester United, something that injury has all too often not allowed him to do. Shaw’s emergence could be bad news for Ben Chilwell. Since signing for Chelsea, Chilwell has flattered to deceive and has struggled to justify his £50 million price tag. With spaces limited he could well miss out this summer.
If Southgate doesn’t act to assure Aaron Wan-Bissaka of his England future soon he will lose him to DR Congo. Wan-Bissaka is defensively the best of the right-backs that Southgate has available to him and his attacking play is improving game by game. He has the characteristics to play a similar centre-back role that Kyle Walker was converted to in the 2018 World Cup and his defensive acumen and physical build actually make him a more desirable option in this position. His inclusion does not necessarily need to come at the expense of another right-back.
Reece James may only be 21 but he plays with a maturity well beyond his years. With Trippier’s gambling ban putting his England future in doubt and Kyle Walker’s recent discipline issues, it may pave the way for James to come into the squad. The Chelsea defender only made his senior England debut in October 2020, and was sent off after the full time whistle in bizarre circumstances in his second game against Denmark, but he has impressed in each of his four appearances for his country. James is also comfortable in the right-wing-back-role as he has shown at club level which works in his favour. James is a quick, intelligent player and a fine crosser of the ball which makes him a real asset going forward. Defensively he is sound as well and could therefore push Alexander-Arnold very hard for a starting role.
Bukayo Saka is another who has taken the chance to impress in recent internationals. He burst onto the scene at Arsenal last season at left-back despite this not being his favoured position. This season he has played all across the Arsenal midfield and has taken on real responsibility with his performances, despite still being only 19. It is likely that if he is to make the squad he will be viewed as a left-wing-back due to England’s embarrassment of riches further forward but his attacking ability could be of real use to England, especially against weaker opposition where Southgate’s side will dominate possession.
Liverpool’s captain is a real leader in the England camp and if Kane is ever absent Jordan Henderson will take the armband. His performances for the Merseyside club have been a huge factor in their success over the last few seasons and his drive and influence on his teammates should not be undermined. Despite this, it feels as though the 30-year-old is yet to have a real career defining moment in an England shirt and perhaps this summer will change that.
Declan Rice’s performances for West Ham United this season are a huge factor in them pushing for a European spot. The 22 year-old has played every game in the Premier League this season for the Hammers and is improving all the time. David Moyes has even come out and said that he values Rice at more than £100 million, such is his importance to his side. A real leader who cuts out a lot of opposition attacks, Rice has also improved his influence in possession with his ability to pick a pass into the front players becoming a real strength of his game.
Mason Mount is another who has taken a considerable amount of responsibility at club level despite his youth. Football fans seemed divided on Mount last season. He was seen as Frank Lampard’s golden boy but his influence under new Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has increased if anything, putting this notion to bed. His eye for goal and intelligence in and out of possession are his greatest strengths, with the 22 year-old always looking to win the ball high up the pitch with his energetic pressing. Three goals in his 13 England appearances so far show that he can take his game to international level and he will only get better.
Kalvin Phillips is very much a newcomer to the international fold, with four England caps to his name. The 25 year-old defensive midfielder is similar in style to Declan Rice and will be expected to play second fiddle to the likely central midfield pairing of Rice and Henderson. There was a lot of clamour around Phillips whilst Leeds United were still in the Championship but now that he is performing consistently well in the Premier League Southgate has integrated him into his England squad. Realistically it is between Phillips and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse to provide central midfield back up in a position where England are unusually lacking. Ward-Prowse’s set piece expertise work hugely in his favour but Southgate has been keen to trial Phillips in more recent fixtures; although Ward-Prowse pulled out of the last squad through injury.
Pep Guardiola labelled Phil Foden a £500 million player and, while this may be an exaggeration, it is evidence of how highly regarded the Stockport-born player is. Foden took a risk by staying at Manchester City when previously games seemed hard to come by but he trusted the process and has undoubtedly benefitted from learning from the likes of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. Now that David Silva has left the club, Foden has gone a long way to filling to void left by the Spaniard. Foden’s influence in big games has improved drastically, as shown by his masterful performance it City’s 4-1 win over Liverpool in February. The 20 year-old is a generational talent and, if nurtured correctly, could go down as one of the greats. His ability to glide with the ball at his feet as well as his creativity and eye for goal make him a nightmare to play against and his work rate is second to none as well; the minimum requirement to play in a Pep Guardiola team.
It took Jack Grealish far too long to be involved in the England set-up but he is now surely there to stay. His performances for his boyhood club, Aston Villa, have gone to another level this season and in his short England career so far he has shown he not only fits in at that level, but thrives. His UEFA Nations League performance against Belgium last year was made even more remarkable by the freedom with which he played while being so new to the team. Grealish should not only be in the squad but Southgate must find a position for him, at this stage in his career he cannot be ignored. The only criticism of Grealish in the past was a lack of end product. He’s now turned this into his strength, notching six goals and ten assists in 22 Premier League games this term.
Harry Kane is England’s captain and talisman and, provided he is fit, will be the first name on Southgate’s team sheet this summer. Kane is prolific and has adapted his game further still this season to provide more chances for his teammates; his 13 Premier League assists this term evidence of this. With 32 goals in 51 England games, and the fact he is still only 27, the Tottenham Hotspur striker looks well on course to break Wayne Rooney’s record 53 England goals. He has delivered on the biggest stage too, winning the World Cup Golden Boot in 2018, finishing the tournament with six goals.
Raheem Sterling does not get enough praise for the role he played in England’s semi-final run in the 2018 World Cup. His lack of goals in the tournament did not tell the whole story, with the Manchester City winger the perfect foil to Harry Kane. Since then, however, his contributions in an England shirt have been there for all to see. Sterling has scored 11 England goals since the 2018 World Cup, having only scored once for his country prior to that. An often under-appreciated player, Sterling’s goal contributions have improved hugely under Guardiola’s management and if he is in-form come the summer he could be vital to England’s chances of success.
Marcus Rashford is remarkably still only 23 years-old. The Manchester United academy product burst onto the scene in 2016, scoring twice on his first team debut against Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League and hasn’t looked back since. He already has 40 England caps to his name and is very much a part of the furniture in the England set up. Rashford has featured in every single game for Manchester United this season and is increasingly taking more responsibility for his club. With 18 goals and ten assists in all competitions this season, Rashford will be keen to add to his 11 international goals this summer. Whether he will be a guaranteed starter remains to be seen but he will certainly have an important role to play in the summer.
Jadon Sancho is perhaps often overlooked as a key member of England’s squad for this summer’s tournament, owing mainly to the fact he plays his club football in Germany. However, his ability is up there with any young player in world football and Southgate will have to manage his forward line effectively to be able to keep everyone happy. England’s most skilful player with the ball at his feet, Sancho will be determined to earn a starting spot for England. After coming under pressure following his poor form early in the season, which was largely put down to a summer of intense transfer speculation, Sancho is back to his best scoring goals and getting assists on a frequent basis. The 20 year-old has 15 Bundesliga goals and assists this season, having not found the net once prior to the winter break, and has already notched three England goals in his fledgling international career.
Had the Euros gone ahead last year as planned, Dominic Calvert-Lewin may have narrowly missed out to Southampton’s Danny Ings. Ings finished last season with 22 Premier League goals, while Calvert-Lewin had just started to find the net regularly for Everton. Fast forward to this season and Calvert-Lewin has continued scoring regularly with 13 league goals to date. In contrast, Ings has faced an injury hit season in which goals have proved more difficult to come by, although he has still managed eight league goals. Ancelotti’s management has taken Calvert-Lewin’s game to levels few would have thought possible in the past and the work the striker has put in must also be praised. In a squad that is sure to be full of attacking midfielders and wingers, Calvert-Lewin will likely be the most natural back-up to Kane as a number 9.