As snow falls across the UK, what do you think about? England’s prospects in the Euros this summer. No? Just me? Fair enough.
A rescheduled Euro 2020 is due to kick-off in June. Although UEFA’s first justification for the tournament not being renamed Euro 2021 being to celebrate the tournament’s 60th anniversary makes no sense, since to every sensible individual, it is actually the tournament’s 61st anniversary, there are other merchandise and advertising reasons as to why the competition has retained its original name.
That aside, as is the case on the eve of every major tournament, sports commentators are beginning to get over-excited as to how deep England can go, considering the last time the nation lifted a major trophy was 55 years ago. However, in spite of the inevitable disappointment that awaits, I have decided to hop on the bandwagon and design my England XI that I believe, if picked – which I do not even slightly think that it will be – would stand a legitimate chance of winning the Euro 2020 trophy.
I have never understood the fascination that some analysts have with England playing 3-at-the-back. Yes, England have significant defensive frailties, but I do not believe that playing additional defenders is a solution to that issue. All it does is send a message to the opposition that we do not trust our backline and also allows the other team to dictate the tempo of the game. As a result, I have decided to plump with a 4-3-3, with a strong message for my team; the best form of defence is attack.
England have some of the best attackers in world football and I believe that it is paramount that we put as many of them out on the pitch as is possible. To win a game of football you have to outscore the opposition and this side is set up to do exactly that. The best two managers in the Premier League at this moment in time, if not the world, Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp adopt this philosophy and so shall I. Before you state that both of their teams have better defences, whilst I am not denying that there is some truth in that, the fact of the matter is that you could design an English back 4 solely out of Liverpool and Manchester City defenders that regularly play for their club, if you wanted to. So, 4-3-3 it is.
The situation regarding England’s goalkeeper position could not be trickier for Gareth Southgate at the moment. England’s incumbent no.1, Jordan Pickford, has continued his run of high-profile errors for Everton this season, leading to him being “rested” by manager, Carlo Ancelotti, on multiple occasions. However, at international level, Pickford’s performances can hardly be questioned, hence why he has earned Southgate’s loyalty up to this point. I, like many others, expect Southgate to keep faith in his man. Still, the idea of retaining a player seemingly until he makes a costly mistake, that is looking increasingly likely to come sooner rather than later, seems a daft stance to take, especially on the eve of a major tournament.
Despite major discrepancies bizarrely existing between Burnley’s and Fifa 21’s estimations of Pope’s height, the former Charlton shot-stopper clearly offers a more dominant presence from set-pieces than Pickford. Such a calming presence would undoubtedly benefit what seems like a shaky England back-line, providing reassurance for fans and players alike in the big moments. Pickford may have impressed so far with Three Lions on his shirt, but if England’s defenders are not convinced by their man in between the sticks, then they could find themselves in some precarious positions, attempting to pre-empt a Pickford mistake.
Whilst Dean Henderson is arguably England’s most talented goalkeeper, his lack of game time makes him impossible to select, particularly as a starter. The rest of England’s goalkeeping contingent, bar Pickford, ply their trade towards the bottom of the Premier League table and while Karl Darlow deserves an honourable mention for his efforts for Newcastle this season, Pope is clearly the cream of this crop. He has been ever-present for Burnley this season, impressing in a surprisingly struggling Sean Dyche side, getting a lot of practice saving shots from all angles.
Following the confirmation of Kieran Trippier’s 10-week ban from football for a breach of the FA’s betting regulations, I almost decided against putting the Atlético Madrid defender in at the right-back position. However, with Kyle Walker in and out of the Manchester City team due to the sparkling form of João Cancelo and with Trent Alexander-Arnold, debatably the best right-back in the world last season, having a fall from grace at both ends of the pitch, I am sticking with Trippier.
On his day, Alexander-Arnold is undoubtedly England’s best right-back, but defensively he is unreliable and offensively, he has lost some of the production that he has showed previously, with Trippier providing more assists in the current campaign. On top of this, Trippier has been a consistent member of probably the best defensive side in world football at this moment in time, with there no one better to have improved this side of his game than Diego Simeone. There may be some Manchester United fans clamouring for the inclusion of Aaron Wan-Bissaka as a defensive full-back, but not only has he been caught out positionally several times already this season, he does not possess the same two-way threat that Trippier does, with his crossing ability simply not on the same level.
Atlético have barely conceded a goal every other game this season, with Trippier playing a big part in that. If he can use this experience to provide some steel to England’s defence, then their chances of progressing to the latter stages of Euro 2020 will increase several times over.
Who could have predicted this at the start of the season? Following the big money arrivals of Rúben Dias and Nathan Aké, John Stones’ days at Manchester City looked numbered. Yet here we are, at the mid-way stage of the season and Stones has played a huge part in the Citizens having by far the best defensive record in England, with their run of clean sheets looking set to propel the side to another Premier League crown.
Stones is a must for this side, for he has now combined his elite passing ability with some defensive acumen, adding a sense of maturity to his game. Gone are the days of him running himself into trouble against top opponents. Of course, Pep Guardiola’s tendency to rotate his team, that leaves players of Fantasy Football tearing their hair out, means that Stones may not finish the season in City’s XI, but for now he has displaced Aymeric Laporte from their starting line-up. This represents a huge change of fortunes for Stones, with Laporte being widely considered the second-best centre-half in the league behind Virgil Van Dijk for most of last season. Who should partner him in central defence for England though, is a much more difficult question.
If you solely look at the goals conceded column of the Premier League table to judge defenders, then Eric Dier may seem the best option to partner Stones. However, although they have not conceded that many goals this season, Tottenham’s defending has been a shambles at times, with individual errors coming at vital stages in games, causing José Mourinho to chop and change his back 4 in a desperate attempt to find a formula that works. Dier has been the latest casualty of this, perhaps surprising considering that his leadership qualities that Mourinho covets were made so apparent in the Amazon documentary. Still, in my England side, Dier can provide this influence on the dressing room from the bench, as an extra option to sub on late in a game when gaps are in need of filling.
Tyrone Mings was another consideration, offering a left-foot, right-foot combination that is very appealing. Mings’ tendency to back off of attackers and allow them to shoot counted against him though, despite the fact that Aston Villa have recorded an impressive number of clean sheets in domestic action this season. Fiyako Tomori may enter this conversation if he can force himself into becoming a regular for AC Milan, potentially benefitting from the injury to Simon Kjær. With Milan sitting pretty at the top of Serie A with a solid defensive record, Tomori would certainly then be hard to ignore, but for now, he is not even a consideration, having barely made any appearances this season, hence his loan move to the Italian leaders. Joe Gomez is in the same boat as Tomori in potentially becoming an option for Southgate; however, currently sidelined with a long-term injury, there are significant doubts if Gomez will even be fit in time for the Euros. Connor Coady is the last honourable mention, but the Wolves captain pays the price for his side’s poor form this season, in addition to the fact that, when playing a back 4, it makes sense to select individuals that are familiar with the system and style of play that you are attempting to produce.
In then comes Harry Maguire, the world’s most expensive defender. Admittedly, Maguire’s roaming runs into midfield and his lack of pace do not fill me with great confidence, but the aerial threat that he provides from corners was just too tempting. In a back 4 that otherwise lacks physicality, Maguire provides it in abundance. Now into his second season as Manchester United captain, Maguire should have now honed his communication skills that should make him and Stones the best possible partnership that England can put together.
With Danny Rose’s Champions League final appearance a long-lost memory and Bukayo Saka’s move further up the pitch, everything seemed to be coming together for Ben Chilwell to be England’s starting left-back this summer. Indeed, I still expect him to be so. However, following the recent arrival of Thomas Tuchel as Chelsea’s new manager, Chilwell has lost his place in the side to Marcos Alonso. On top of that, Chelsea are now transforming to playing 3-at-the-back, meaning that heading into the summer, if Chilwell does regain his starting place, which I again imagine he will, he will have been playing predominantly as a wing-back and may lose some of his defensive instincts, that will need to be at their sharpest if England are to have success.
As a result, Luke Shaw has a place in my side, after adding assists to his repertoire this season, providing the same number as Chilwell. Shaw regularly plays in a back 4 and having occasionally played as a centre-back, possesses much-needed versatility, allowing this side to move to a back 3 in transition, without making a substitution. This is especially valuable, as if they are chasing a game, England could then change formation, but bring on bodies and subsequently, energy, in the attacking positions on the pitch, rather than wasting a sub on an additional centre-back.
I nearly slotted Henderson in at centre-back, such has been the impressive nature of his performances when deputising at the position at various stages this season. The Liverpool captain is one of England’s best leaders on the pitch, providing enthusiasm through his energetic style of play, whilst showcasing an ability to get the ball moving quickly, but also dialling it back and focussing on ball retention when required.
Providing he safely navigates his way through the rest of the season free from injury, Henderson will certainly be one of the first names on Southgate’s team sheet and he is too on mine. However, I suspect unlike Southgate, I would deploy Henderson as a number 6, providing an anchor in front of the defence. England do not have the best defence and Declan Rice does offer additional solidity, but England do have elite attackers that should not be stifled by the inclusion of individuals like Rice. Kalvin Phillips meanwhile is certainly promising, but asking him to defend not in the manic man-to-man style that he does at Leeds may be too big an ask and he simply does not possess the range of passing that Henderson does. Henderson is therefore the best option that England have to ensure that their impressive attacking force is firing on all cylinders.
I would expect this to be the most controversial of my selections and, if the bookmakers are to be believed, it is certainly the most unlikely to come to fruition, with Ward-Prowse a doubt to even make the squad, yet alone start. However, if I want my England team to dominate the ball and play like a Liverpool-Manchester City hybrid – and I do – then I need players who can be relied upon to not make errant passes and finish the game with 90%+ passing accuracy.
England possess very few of this type of midfielder. Harry Winks is one, not looking out of place in the past in big Champions League games against the likes of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. At the start of the season, he would have been a shoe-in in this side, but he has fallen out of favour under José Mourinho at Tottenham. Such is the extent that Southgate likes Winks that he may still make the squad, but starting at Euro 2020 when you are lacking match fitness is simply out of the question for me. The same reasoning can be applied to discarding another energetic midfielder in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Ward-Prowse, however, has had an excellent campaign for Southampton, who, although they have stuttered as of late, have played some really fluid attacking football. Solid in providing assists, Ward-Prowse also has a goal in him, not only being England’s best set-piece taker (sorry Kieran Trippier, I thank you for that memory), but arguably being the best in the Premier League. With set pieces often the do or die in major moments in games, getting them right is crucial and there is no one better than Ward-Prowse to execute this.
The bane of my fantasy football life, Phil Foden’s sporadic appearances for Manchester City are the only thing that could possibly hamper his chances of being one of the first names on Southgate’s team sheet. Guardiola has long promised Foden a significant role in his side which, this season, was finally meant to come to fruition following the retirement of City legend David Silva. However, the signing of Ferran Torres and emergence of İlkay Gündoğan as a midfield goal scorer has meant that Foden has regularly found himself left on City’s bench. He has seen increased minutes following an injury to Kevin De Bruyne, but he is by no means a regular starter, forcing my hand to remove him from my fantasy squad after 20 consecutive gameweeks of keeping faith.
Of course, Foden dearly loves City and looks highly unlikely to leave and with his goal contributions steadily increasing year-on-year, his minutes surely will too. However, there are those out there who feel that a move is necessary in order for him to take the next step in his career. I disagree with this idea, for City’s dominant style of play suits Foden down to a tee, with Guardiola’s rotation something that he will just have to put up with, as several great players have before him.
James Maddison and Mason Mount will hope that their superior match fitness will help to swing Southgate in their favour, but, on talent alone, Foden is the superior player. Being behind in the pecking order to the greatest playmaker in world football today in De Bruyne is nothing to be ashamed of and surely there is no greater person for Foden to learn from in perfecting his trade. Getting this big game experience in Foden at a young age is key if he is to lead this England side to success not only in this summer’s tournament, but in those to come too. Offering a left-foot, right-foot combination in the centre of midfield only enhances the case for his inclusion.
What a season this man is having. After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, I, like many others, could be forgiven for thinking that the Aston Villa captain’s loyalty to his club would be to the detriment of his own personal success. However, the Villa we have seen this season are a different beast entirely and their enterprising style of play would simply not be possible if Grealish was not pulling the strings.
Regularly deployed on the left of a front three, Grealish’s relentless running epitomises his love for the game and his desire to leave everything out on the field. A strong believer of playing your best players in their favourite positions, this is exactly where I would deploy Grealish, providing even more creativity, in front of an already dynamic midfield trio.
He had to wait a long time for his senior England debut, despite numerous calls for Southgate to accelerate this process from fans and pundits alike. Grealish is scoring goals as well as setting them up at a rate in line with the best players in the league. The reason for this is simple; he is one of them. Surely his wait for his debut at a big international tournament will be much shorter.
Marcus Rashford deserves a shoutout for the fantastic season that he has had with Manchester United, but with Rashford being more of a finisher than a provider – although he has notably improved his assisting this campaign – he can provide an attacking option, offering pace and energy, from the bench.
The first name on the team sheet. And it is not even close.
Going into the summer, Southgate has a hard choice as to which strikers to take with him to Euro 2020, as England really do possess a wealth of attacking options. With over half of the players to have scored more than 8 Premier League goals this season being English, the nation’s prospects of scoring goals this summer are better than ever, hence the attacking nature of this line-up. However, with the consistency that Kane has shown over the past few seasons at the highest level in both a Tottenham and an England shirt mean that the starting central striker position is simply not up for debate.
Providing he is fit, Kane starts for England this summer. A reoccurrence of an all too familiar January ankle injury had Tottenham fans and Southgate sweating over their star player’s health, but, as usual, Kane has returned ahead of schedule and will do everything he can to ensure he retains his fitness until the end of the campaign.
One of the best finishers, if not the best, in the world, Kane has shown this season that he is the complete striker, providing De Bruyne-esque assists to Heung-min Son in soon to be the deadliest partnership in Premier League history. Kane is England’s best finisher and arguably England’s best playmaker too, possessing a unique ability to thread the ball through the eye of a needle. Dominic Calvert-Lewin may find himself in the golden boot running this season and his accomplishments should not be understated, but, realistically, he is levels below Kane, who may well finish above him in that metric by the end of the season too.
Oh, and he’s England’s captain.
You may find Sterling’s inclusion on the right side of this three-headed attacking monster ironic, considering how important I claimed it to be to put your best players in their best positions when justifying Jack Grealish’s inclusion. You will probably think this even more so when I state that I do consider Sterling to be in this bracket of England’s best. However, Sterling does have experience of playing on the other flank from the earlier part of his career and he regularly finds himself out there when he switches wings mid-game for Manchester City too.
Simply put, Grealish has yet to show his ability to play as effectively as he has been this season in another position, whereas Sterling has. Sterling’s ability to drive down the side of the pitch and then square the ball for the easiest of goals for the likes of Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus is a trait that he has been able to replicate in his England career with Harry Kane. The pair have begun to develop their chemistry on the international stage and in a side where a lot of these players have yet to play regularly with one another, retaining this is important.
Jadon Sancho is a terrific player more used to this side of the park but he does not have Sterling’s international experience and is yet to light up the pitch whilst in an England shirt. Sterling should also have great familiarity with Foden, who should be able to pick up his runs in behind opposition defences. Whilst some may see it as a criticism that Sterling is the only player in this side who has to start away from his natural position, it is more of a compliment that even in this unfamiliar territory, I feel that he has such quality that he should oust other high-quality players, such as Sancho and Rashford, from Southgate’s starting XI.
A common issue in England sides of the past is a lack of creativity when they fall behind, which can be oh so frustrating for onlooking fans. As a result, this side is stacked with creativity, with pure finishers largely left by the wayside. This side is designed to be ball-dominant, much like a Manchester City or a Liverpool, preventing our backline from being exposed, by retaining possession wherever possible. With passers in Grealish and Foden to pick out Sterling’s runs in behind and all 3 supplying elite finisher Kane, this England side promises to offer a real goal threat. Maguire, Henderson and Kane’s leadership will come in handy when motivating the team in difficult moments and Ward-Prowse offers potency from set-pieces. This side really epitomises Kane’s club Tottenham’s motto of ‘To Dare is To Do’. Such bravery on the pitch will be required if football is finally going to be coming home at Euro 2020.
My England XI For Euro 2020: Pope, Trippier, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, J Henderson, Ward-Prowse, Foden, Grealish, Kane, Sterling
We hope you enjoyed this article ‘Can this England XI Win a Rescheduled Euro 2020?’. How far do you believe that this England side would go in this summer’s Euros? Who would you select to start in June, if you were Gareth Southgate?
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