ollowing the conclusion this month’s triple-header against Ireland, Belgium and Iceland, Gareth Southgate now has just one more get-together with England in March before he must name his 23-man squad for Euro 2020.
So who should Southgate pick come June 13 when England kick-off the Euros and in what formation? We asked our writers to pick their XI to start the first game against Croatia at Wembley.
4-2-3-1: D Henderson; Alexander-Arnold, Maguire, Gomez, Chilwell; J Henderson, Rice; Sancho, Grealish, Sterling; Kane.
Southgate has favoured 4-3-3 or, frustratingly, 3-4-3 but a switch to 4-2-3-1 would enable England to field an attack of Jadon Sancho (or Marcus Rashford), Grealish, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, which would trouble every defence in the tournament. With Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson in a midfield two, there should be enough protection for the back four, allowing the full-backs to attack and progress the ball into the final third.
Ultimately, it is a system which would probably have to be adapted against the very best sides, with another midfielder (Harry Winks or Kalvin Phillips?) replacing Sancho but there is no reason why England should not approach the group stage, where they will have home advantage after all, with this team.
4-3-3: Pope; Alexander-Arnold, Dier, Maguire, Chilwell; Foden, Rice, Mount; Sterling, Kane, Rashford.
There are a lot of ifs and buts in this XI. For instance, if Dean Henderson gets first-team football then he moves to the top of the list in goal. If Joe Gomez recovers and gets enough game-time in, he’d ideally start in a defence that would possibly switch to a back three. As impressive as Grealish has been, I consider Phil Foden a generational talent who could be England’s gem with a full season in Manchester City’s first team. Perhaps Grealish could join him in a similar system to Pep Guardiola’s, but I’ve gone for Mason Mount’s greater discipline in a very attacking side.
For now, the front three pick themselves – but Jadon Sancho is pushing hard. Both he and Mason Greenwood are genuine game-changers to throw on from the bench. My biggest concern would be a back four when England have traditionally performed best with three centre backs down the years. In this formation I see Rice dropping back to make a three when the full backs drive forward.
4-2-3-1: Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Mings, Chilwell; J Henderson, Rice; Rashford, Grealish, Sterling; Kane.
Southgate has favoured playing three at the back with this team, but for me England’s strengths lie in attack. As a result, I have tried to pack the attack with as much talent as possible – including Grealish in a No10 role.
Out wide, there is a debate over whether Sancho should start, but Rashford gets the nod given his experience of major tournament football. The same goes for Jordan Pickford in goal, who excelled at the 2018 World Cup. Defence is the hardest area to pick, but if Gomez is fit he starts over Maguire for me. Tyrone Mings’s left foot would provide balance at the back.
3-4-3: Pickford; Walker, Coady, Mings; James, Rice, Mount, Chilwell; Sterling, Kane, Grealish.
If Southgate is to stick with a back three then it is imperative to bring some creativity to the midfield, especially against sides England will be expected to dominate, instead of pairing Rice with another more conservative player. Jack Grealish’s place in the side was further assured after his performances across the November international break, but his wizardry must be balanced with some pace – through Sterling – on the other flank to bring the best out of Kane’s proficiency when dropping deep.
Kyle Walker has been solid and impressive on the right of the back three while Conor Coady already looks a seasoned international. Maguire looks too mistake prone and has some convincing to do before next summer. On the right Southgate has plenty of options but Reece James has pace to burn, a wicked delivery and doesn’t shun his defensive duties.
4-3-3: Pickford, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Maguire, Chilwell, Rice, Henderson, Foden, Sterling, Kane, Rashford.
I’d be disappointed to see England start the group stage in a conservative 3-4-3 so I’ve eschewed it here, even if it seems increasingly unlikely that Southgate will do the same. Reservations about Coady in a centre-back pair mean a fit Gomez gets the nod, though the Wolves skipper should start if the three is retained, while I’m hoping this system will finally see Alexander-Arnold replicate his club form – England’s failure to properly utilise perhaps the best attacking right-back in the world is an under-discussed part of their creative struggles.
In midfield, I’d go with Foden ahead of Mount, though as with Coady, a change of system would bring the Chelsea man into contention. Up front, it’s tough to leave out Grealish, but I feel the only way I see England winning the tournament is for the Rashford-Kane-Sterling frontline to fire – it has the potential to frighten the best teams in Europe, as we saw most notably in Seville a few years back.
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