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88 yk Euro 2020: Dilemmas facing England manager Gareth Southgate ahead of tournament – Man Utd
June 18, 2021

Man Utd

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Euro 2020: Dilemmas facing England manager Gareth Southgate ahead of tournament

9 min read

Gareth Southgate‘s headache over his England squad selection has been replaced by an even more thumping one over his strongest line-up for Euro 2020.

We know the 26 players who will shoulder the nation’s hopes this summer but deciding that could well prove to be the easy bit for the Three Lions boss.

As Southgate said after Tuesday evening’s announcement, he wouldn’t swap his squad of many talents for any other competing at the tournament.

Gareth Southgate has picked his 26-man squad for the European Championship - now the more difficult challenge comes from finding his strongest XI for the tournament

Gareth Southgate has picked his 26-man squad for the European Championship – now the more difficult challenge comes from finding his strongest XI for the tournament 

The England squad are in Middlesbrough ahead of friendly matches against Austria on Wednesday and Romania on Sunday

The England squad are in Middlesbrough ahead of friendly matches against Austria on Wednesday and Romania on Sunday

ENGLAND’S 26-MAN EUROS SQUAD

GOALKEEPERS: Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion), Jordan Pickford (Everton)

DEFENDERS: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)

MIDFIELDERS: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United), Declan Rice (West Ham United)

FORWARDS: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

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So picking the right team for Croatia on Sunday week and the matches beyond that is no simple task.

There are lingering injury worries, certain departments that are over-stocked compared to others and regular starters to keep happy.

And it is, genuinely, an England cohort who offer so much potential with talented players bringing different things to the table.

Southgate has the luxury of two warm-up friendlies to fine-tune – against Austria on Wednesday evening and Romania on Sunday, both at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.

With the Euros almost upon us, here are the dilemmas Southgate still needs to mull over.

Who will be Kane’s wingmen?

England are certainly blessed with an abundance of attacking talent this time around. While squads at previous tournaments have relied on orthodox centre forwards, now we also have speedy and skilful wide attackers and technically-adept No 10s.

Many of those who have made the squad are remarkably versatile as well. They can swap flanks and rotate positions during games to keep the opposition guessing.

Captain Kane will obviously be the spearhead of the attack and it’s hugely encouraging to see the Tottenham forward come into the tournament after a 33-goal campaign. The only concern is that speculation over his future will prove a distraction.

But who lines up in the wide attacking positions, assuming Southgate sticks with the 4-3-3 system he reverted back to in March, is genuinely intriguing.

Raheem Sterling struggled to make an impact for Man City in the Champions League final

Raheem Sterling struggled to make an impact for Man City in the Champions League final

Marcus Rashford couldn't hide his frustration as Man United lost the Europa League final

Marcus Rashford couldn’t hide his frustration as Man United lost the Europa League final

Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all offer pace on the counter-attack, are skilled finishers and are accustomed to lining up together for England. They all played and scored freely during a qualification campaign that saw England average 4.6 goals per game.

The issue for Southgate is that both Rashford and Sterling come into the Euros short of form. Both struggled during their respective European finals for their clubs last week and it will be a concern.

Sterling’s goal tally slumped and he scored just twice for City after early February. Rashford has only shown glimpses of his best during the second half of the season and wasn’t able to put a scoring run together.

If Southgate is measuring on form, you’d pick Sancho, whose standards haven’t dropped off for Borussia Dortmund after a season of 16 goals and 20 assists.

Jadon Sancho has enjoyed an excellent campaign for Borussia Dortmund as he pushes for a starting place in the England team at Euro 2020

Jadon Sancho has enjoyed an excellent campaign for Borussia Dortmund as he pushes for a starting place in the England team at Euro 2020

Jack Grealish has really looked the part in an England shirt and is pushing hard for a place

Jack Grealish has really looked the part in an England shirt and is pushing hard for a place

It should also open the door for Jack Grealish, who really embraced the opportunity to play for England during the autumn internationals.

The Aston Villa forward isn’t long back from injury but offers something a bit different to Sterling, Rashford and Sancho. If he starts against either Austria or Romania, which surely he will, he’ll see it as a massive opportunity to convince Southgate he should start during the tournament.

It’s a credit to Jesse Lingard that he has remained with the England squad after not making the 26-man squad but surely it makes little sense to play him against Austria, as is being suggested.

Southgate isn’t blessed with endless warm-up games to get things right for the tournament and fielding Lingard prevents Sancho or Bukayo Saka from getting into form.

Lingard didn't make the cut for the England squad despite a strong loan spell at West Ham

Lingard didn’t make the cut for the England squad despite a strong loan spell at West Ham

Setting the right tone in midfield

Southgate was criticised for setting up too conservatively in midfield during England’s autumn UEFA Nations League campaign.

It’s vital that England’s three midfielders aren’t all defensively minded and service to the forward line isn’t choked off.

In the group games against Scotland and the Czech Republic in particular, when the onus is on England to set the tone, you wouldn’t want to see Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson, for example.

So Southgate will mull over getting the balance right. The injury issues around Henderson – the manager admitted how much of a worry this is for him – could push him to deploy Mason Mount or Phil Foden, or both, in there with Rice holding.

Jordan Henderson has only just returned to training following injury at the end of the season

Jordan Henderson has only just returned to training following injury at the end of the season

Jude Bellingham deserves an opportunity to stake his claim in the two warm-up matches

Jude Bellingham deserves an opportunity to stake his claim in the two warm-up matches

The key dates 

Wednesday  Friendly vs Austria at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough

Sunday Friendly vs Romania in Middlesbrough

June 13 Euro 2020 opener vs Croatia at Wembley

June 18 Second group game vs Scotland at Wembley

June 22 Final group game vs Czech Republic at Wembley 

July 11 Euro 2020 final at Wembley 

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That would certainly give England plenty of creativity and craft, allowing them to take the game to their opponents.

In all likelihood, Southgate will settle on something of a compromise, for the group games at least.

He has favoured Rice and Phillips in a good number of the recent games and they’ve worked effectively together.

Partner Rice’s screening and industry with the passing of Phillips and the creative class of Mount or Foden and England should get it spot on.

Many England fans will be keen to see Jude Bellingham, 17, given an opportunity following an outstanding season with Dortmund.

Southgate shouldn’t be afraid to throw Bellingham into one of the friendly games and challenge him to change his mind about the line-up in midfield.

Where to best deploy Mount and Foden

Having gone head-to-head in Saturday’s Champions League final, Mount and Foden are among those players who’ll sit out the friendlies to get a much-needed break ahead of the Euros.

It’ll be vital both are fully charged and ready to fire. Mount is 22 and Foden 21, both enter the Euros off the back of excellent seasons, and both will provide England with a spark.

Southgate found a way of accommodating both in the March World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Poland, demonstrating how both youngsters can effortlessly occupy a number of positions.

Mason Mount rounded off an excellent season by winning the Champions League at Chelsea

Mason Mount rounded off an excellent season by winning the Champions League at Chelsea

In the Albania game, Mount was stationed on the left-side of the attack with Foden on the right-side of a compact midfield three.

Against Poland, Foden was pushed up into the right-side of the forward line while Mount was on the left of the midfield three.

In both cases, it isn’t where you’d normally associate both players starting for their clubs but it shows how much flexibility it gives Southgate.

Mount now appears to be as vital for Southgate as he was for first Frank Lampard and then Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, while Foden is seizing the increasing chances he is getting for England with both hands.

The Chelsea man looks as close to a shoo-in as it’s currently possible to have in this England side. Foden might have to be more patient but you wouldn’t bet against him making a telling impact on this tournament.

Phil Foden has all the potential to make an explosive impact at the tournament this summer

Phil Foden has all the potential to make an explosive impact at the tournament this summer

All the right-backs, so many right-backs…

In the end, Southgate just couldn’t choose between them and went with all four.

England have four recognised right-backs in their Euro squad and the manager even joked he would have picked five or six if he had the room.

The issue now comes in deciding which of Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James takes the one right-back spot in the 4-3-3.

If Southgate deploys a three-man defence and wing-backs, then Walker knows how to play on the right-side of the three, allowing one of the others to bomb forward.

Trent Alexander-Arnold did win a place in the Euro 2020 squad after much speculation

Trent Alexander-Arnold did win a place in the Euro 2020 squad after much speculation

Southgate has remained loyal to Kieran Trippier for most of his time as England manager

Southgate has remained loyal to Kieran Trippier for most of his time as England manager

All of the quartet offers impeccable pedigree – they’ve all won honours at the highest level and some have added to their medal collections in the past few weeks.

Alexander-Arnold leads the others in terms of assists, crosses and key passes but isn’t so strong when it comes to the defensive work, especially in one-on-one duels.

Southgate has been pretty loyal to Trippier since the last World Cup and Walker also featured regularly when there was space in the back three. Now Southgate will have to decide.

Then you have James, off the back of a superb season with Chelsea, making a strong case with his energy and tackling ability.

Kyle Walker's season with Manchester City ended in disappointment in Saturday night's final

Kyle Walker’s season with Manchester City ended in disappointment in Saturday night’s final

Reece James tackles Kevin De Bruyne during Chelsea's Champions League final victory

Reece James tackles Kevin De Bruyne during Chelsea’s Champions League final victory

The manager can delay the call a little because Trippier is likely to have to slot in at left-back for the friendlies because Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell will link up with the squad later.

Though Alexander-Arnold’s place in the squad was in jeopardy until the eleventh hour, he should start at least one of those friendlies to prove to Southgate just how good his form is.

There has been much mockery of the decision to go with all four right-backs. Being so well-stocked there is both a blessing and a curse for Southgate but it may well be the variables between England’s different opponents allows a ‘horses for courses’ approach.

Who covers for Maguire?

The other major injury concern ahead of the tournament – and there’s usually at least one – is Harry Maguire, who is only just training again following his ankle injury.

Manchester United certainly missed him in their Europa League final defeat and, for all his detractors, the leadership Maguire offers means there was never any doubt he’d be included even if he misses the opening game or two.

The ideal central defensive pairing is Maguire and John Stones of Manchester City but the next three or four games, including the two friendlies, will see others fill the role.

Harry Maguire's injury is causing concern for England ahead of the tournament this summer

Harry Maguire’s injury is causing concern for England ahead of the tournament this summer

Aston Villa's Tyrone Mings has been included in the squad and could start some of the games

Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings has been included in the squad and could start some of the games

Conor Coady of Wolves is also likely to feature in the warm-up games ahead of the Euros

Conor Coady of Wolves is also likely to feature in the warm-up games ahead of the Euros

Stones will be given a rest, meaning we’ll see Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady together for the Austria game on Wednesday night.

It’s an opportunity for both to show their qualities and win that spot alongside Stones for potentially both the games against Croatia and Scotland, or whenever Maguire can play again.

Mings has more caps and Villa have enjoyed the better season to Wolves, so you’d put him marginally ahead of Coady in the pecking order.

But there’s not a great deal between them and both have a golden opportunity to show their abilities and potentially get a tournament start.

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