(written by Tom Cayless)
Due to the coronavirus global pandemic last year’s European Championships were rescheduled in the hope of the fans being able to attend and also to allow domestic leagues to finish. The tournament is now scheduled for this summer (2021) and the delay has given England boss Gareth Southgate an extra year in selecting his squad, giving players another chance to shine, breakthrough, or cement their place in the squad.
This delay has almost certainly helped players like Phil Foden and John Stones, who last summer probably wouldn’t have made the 23 man squad however now look certain for the squad. Players such as Joe Gomez and Kieran Trippier have had quite the opposite though, Joe Gomez and Kieran Trippier looked like definites if the tournament was played when originally planned but now probably won’t make the squad. The Liverpool centre-back injured his knee in England training earlier in the season and looks like he won’t make it back in time for the Championships, whereas the Atletico Madrid defender has had his off-field issues of his own. Danny Ings, despite his continued good form, also looks less likely to be chosen compared to last summer due to the new form of Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
In this article I will evaluate and give the squad I believe Southgate should take to give him and his side the best chance of bringing football home.
*all stats are correct as of 14th January 2021
Starting with keepers, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope will certainly make the cut. Pope, the Burnley first choice, has the second best save percentage in the division- Lloris the best. Many fans have been calling out for Southgate to give Pope a chance as number one, however, that looks unlikely with his admiration and confidence in Pickford.
Pickford’s save percentage isn’t as good as Pope’s, however, is still better than Bernd Leno of Arsenal and Chelsea’s new signing Edouard Mendy. Despite a decent save percentage, Pickford’s XG number’s don’t give him a good showing. The Everton keeper has conceded -0.17 goals per 90 more than XG suggests he should have- one of the worst in the division.
Pope, on the other hand, has the best in the division with him keeping out + 0.37 goals per 90, meaning for three every games he plays he keeps out one more goal than XG suggests he should.
The third choice, however, is less certain. At the start of the season, Dean Henderson looked like a guarantee, however, with the form of Karl Darlow things could have changed. Darlow only started playing this season after his senior Martin Dubravka picked up an injury. As a result of his excellent form, the Newcastle stopper has kept Dubravka out of the team since his recent return from injury and will more than definitely give Henderson a good run for the third spot. If I was picking the squad, Darlow would be my third because of Henderson’s limited playing time however I am not choosing it and think Southgate will go with Manchester United’s Dean Henderson.
As for the first choice, Pope definitely has the stronger case for the number one spot, but Pickford has been Southgate’s preferred choice in the past and will more than likely carry on like that in the summer.
Tom selects: Nick Pope, Jordan Pickford, Karl Darlow
Carrying on into the defence, there are a few players who should and will 100% be in the squad. Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, John Stones, Harry Maguire will definitely be putting on an England shirt this summer. The Manchester City duo has played some of the best football in their careers this season, making up half of the best defence in the league this season. Stones has created a world-class defensive duo this season with Ruben Dias and will look to take his excellent form into the Euros.
Alex-Arnold on the other hand hasn’t been at his best this season after a few injuries but at his best is still the best full-back in the world and will more than likely make the right-back position his own, depending on if Southgate decides to choose a three or four back formation.
Maguire, captain of Manchester United, will also make the grade. His physicality will be key for England in the summer. He was crucial in the 2018 World Cup and a real threat from set pieces, a trait he will look to take into this summer’s competition.
Ben Chilwell started well for Chelsea but has dropped off lately, just like the rest of the squad, but because of thin left-back options, Chilwell will make the squad and could even start. The other left-back option Luke Shaw has been a real improvement this season for Manchester United, even keeping deadline day signing Alex Telles out of the United team. Shaw will look to provide competition in the left-back area and it is a real toss-up between the two in who should start.
Wolves’ Connor Coady has been great in the middle of a back three and is an excellent choice for Southgate and offers a great deal in distribution from the back. Because of injury to Joe Gomez, Coady should make the squad as a backup option to both Maguire and Stones with Walker also an option there, meaning the fourth out and out centre back option isn’t needed.
The final defender will be Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. Despite not being a conventional defender, Saka can play wing-back and more positions further up the pitch. In his four England caps, Saka has appeared at wing-back and would be a great choice because of his positional versatility.
Players unlucky to miss out consist of Micheal Keane, who Southgate has chosen in the past, Reece James of Chelsea, and Eric Dier after his season with Jose Mourinho’s new-look Spurs side.
Tom selects: Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Connor Coady, Ben Chilwell, Bukayo Saka, Luke Shaw
As for midfielders, Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Jack Grealish, and Phil Foden should unquestionably make the squad.
Grealish has been one of the stars of the Premier League this past year and is more or less a guaranteed starter, whether that be as a left-winger or in the midfield. He already has 5 goals and 7 assists in the league this season. His expected goals and expected assists are very similar to those coming in at 3.4 XG and 6.4 XA for the season so far, this shows that Grealish is maybe slightly over-performing in the goalscoring department but is creating at a consistent rate that he can keep up at, a promising sign for England.
Phil Foden is Manchester City’s top scorer this season with 8 goals in all competitions, a great accomplishment in a side with such talent. The Manchester City academy graduate, has played as left and right-winger as well as the left of a midfield three this season and also has the most goal contributions of any under 21 player in the league this season. Foden is already one goal of his best Premier League tally (5) and could be the creative key and spark that Southgate’s side has formally lacked. England has previously been criticised for its lack of tempo and Grealish and Foden could prove pivotal in changing fans’ opinions.
Declan Rice has also been excellent this season, he has a large range of passes, attempting 8.82 long balls with a 76.7% completion rate. With Kane more than likely starting upfront, this long ball ability should prove a key asset in Southgate’s midfield and a great way to counter a team press.
Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, will also be key for the team in the summer. His leadership and experience are unmatched in the squad and will help the young players especially in the squad. Henderson also has great ability on the ball and is extremely versatile, playing three different positions for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool this season. The Captain of a Premier League and UEFA Champions League-winning side is a must.
Mason Mount should be taken to the competition also. Offering something against a side that will play deep against England, Mount is excellent from set-pieces and finds himself high up the pitch for most of the games he is involved in. He has taken 29.3 touches in the final third, per 90, this season and makes 7 progressive actions proving he can be excellent against both deep defences and in counter-attacks, he should be taken.
My final pick for the midfield is Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse- purely for his set-piece ability. England already has enough dribblers and ball progresses in the squad. The Saints midfielder has perhaps the ability from a dead ball in the league. Earlier in the season, he scored two free-kicks against Aston Villa in a game that finished 4-3. He, individually, proved the difference between the two sides and that spark of magic is something that England cannot pass upon.
Plenty of quality misses out on the midfield with players like James Maddison and Eberechi Eze not quite making the cut. The downfall of Dele Alli also sees him miss out, something that would have been unthinkable three or four years ago.
Tom selects: Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, James Ward-Prowse, Mason Mount
Finally, the attackers. Most players in this area pick themselves. Harry Kane will go and without a doubt lead the line for Southgate’s men. The Spurs’ forward has been nothing short of world-class and if the season was to end now would be up there for the player of the year. He has the most goal contributions in the Premier League so far with 22 G/A, 11 of each. Kane has found himself in a deeper role under Mourinho at Spurs in which he has flourished. More than likely the first name on Southgate’s team sheet, nothing but an injury could stop Kane from competing in the summer.
Marcus Rashford MBE is also certain for the side. After an excellent year off the pitch, the Manchester United academy graduate has been superb for Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Rashford has 7 goals and 5 assists in the league for United. His work rate has also been excellent, making 9.56 pressures per game with 4.31 taking place in the attacking third of the pitch, whether that is due to Solskjær’s tactics or Rashford’s pure desire to press this can certainly be translated over to the three lions.
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling will also make the squad for the summer. One of the few truly world-class players in the squad, Sterling has scored 7 in all competitions which is disappointing as at this point last season he had 19. The Jamaican born winger has missed a few big chances this season, most notably a header from close range at home against West Brom in the final minute and a 1 on 1 situation against West Ham in the 86th, both games finished 1-1. These lapses of composure is more than likely just a blip in form as he scored 20, 17 and 18 goals in his last 3 Premier League seasons. However, Sterling is still taking 2.08 shots per game with 50% landing on target, this is a good sign he can improve on his poor form. Hopefully, for England’s sake, Sterling can pick up his performances for the summer and show the world-class ability everyone knows he has.
Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho will also be a guarantee for Southgate’s squad in the summer. Sancho is also underperforming his XG this season with only 2 goals from an expected 3.9, in the Bundesliga. However, he still attempts a high amount of dribbles this season, 6.55 per 90 at a success rate of 55%. He also makes 10.1 progressive carries per 90, which can be extremely useful for Southgate’s side in transition and cannot be missed out on.
The two final attackers in the squad should be Danny Ings and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Both have proven to be excellent goalscorers and would provide a back up to Kane and perhaps rotation in one of the group games. Ings scored 22 league goals last season and has 7 this season already. He also has taken 2.24 shots per 90 this season with 52% hitting the target. Also a workhorse, Ings makes 16.7 pressures, per 90, making him a must in a game that needs energy and a spark. He will provide an excellent option off the bench for the three lions.
Calvert-Lewin has already got 11 league goals this season and is the main forward in Ancelotti’s side that finds themselves only a point behind Liverpool. Threatening in the air, Calvert-Lewin has scored 4 headed goals in the league this season, including one in the Merseyside derby. Both these two will provide top class back-up for a star-studded England forward line.
The likes of Hudson-Odoi and Mason Greenwood are perhaps unlucky to miss out but will certainly have their time to shine.
Tom selects: Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford MBE, Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho, Danny Ings, Calvert-Lewin
Nick Pope, Jordan Pickford, Karl Darlow
Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Connor Coady, Ben Chilwell, Bukayo Saka, Luke Shaw
Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, James Ward-Prowse, Mason Mount
Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford MBE, Harry Kane, Jadon Sancho, Danny Ings, Calvert-Lewin
England may not be favorites with the likes of France and Portugal having very strong sides, but with the squad listed above, they have a great chance of causing an upset and perhaps even bringing football back to where it belongs.