This summer England will go into the European Championships with a nation ready to cheer anything, but who will be wearing the Three Lions on their shirts? Here’s what I think.
Today, Gareth Southgate names his England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but I am going to go one better by naming his squad for Euro 2020! Now, to be totally transparent, this is an article that I started writing in February last year, but I don’t know if you noticed, things went slightly askew and the European Championships were postponed until the summer of 2021, although they retain the name Euro 2020. Unsurprisingly some players have remained from those very first drafts, but some very much have not, and while some might say that my surmising that “Dele Alli has had an inconsistent 18 months since the last World Cup, but under new Spurs manager Jose Mourinho he is looking back to his best, so he will be back in England’s first team this summer” may be remarkably clueless in hindsight, I prefer to see it as a throwback to amore innocent, optimistic time in my life. Therefore I’ve included various titbits from the original version of this prediction, so we can all remember those heady days. I’ve also tried to be honest and ick a balanced squad, with cover across all areas of the team.
Jordan Pickford is England’s current number 1 – but for how much longer?
Nick Pope (Burnley, 2 caps)
Funny how things can change. Whilst at Burnley, Tom Heaton’s injury allowed Nick Pope to become a regular first team number 1, and he deservedly has become a regular in the international squad. And now, just three months away from the Euros, an injury to Jordan Pickford will give Pope a chance to stake his claim for the England No. 1 jersey. His consistency means he probably should be the first choice keeper anyway (runner-up in the Golden Glove competition with 15 clean sheets last season, and 9 in a struggling team this campaign is the most of any English keeper), but if his distribution is not as good as Pickford’s (as seems to be the accepted wisdom) then Southgate may not be willing to make a permanent change.
Jordan Pickford (Everton, 30 caps)
England’s long time number 1 has had an inconsistent time of it since the World Cup in Russia, but he would still make the squad quite easily, injuries permitting. The argument is that he has never let England down, so here’s hoping he doesn’t go the way of Joe Hart or Paul Robinson, two incredibly talented young keepers whose performance levels dropped off very quickly, seemingly out of nowhere, as they approached 30, and that he can rediscover his previous levels.
Dean Henderson (Manchester United, 1 cap)
Henderson was excellent in last season’s Sheffield United team, with his only mistake all season (against Liverpool) long forgotten and far outweighed by his great performances. He has only recently been playing in the Premier League for Man Utd, so hasn’t done enough to stake a claim for an England starting berth. But, Henderson is still only 24, so he should go even if just for the experience for future tournaments, but will need first team football to really challenge for the number 1 jersey.
Just missing out: I started work on a version of this article in February 2020, before the world went crazy. At that time I had Alex McCarthy (Southampton, 1 cap) and Jack Butland (Stoke, 9 caps) as possibilities, but McCarthy is battling with Fraser Forster for his place in a free-falling Saints team, and Jack Butland has been sat on Crystal Palace’s bench all season. Karl Darlow was having a remarkable season for Newcastle but has been dropped, so Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion, 0 caps) and current under 21 keeper Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United, 0 caps) are next in line, although neither have had particularly enjoyable seasons and both will end up suffering relegation sooner rather than later.
Will John Stones and Harry Maguire be celebrating again this summer?
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, 12 caps, 1 goal)
Even with his (and Liverpool’s) problems this season, TAA has to be a guaranteed starter. He’s a mouthwatering talent who has already shown himself to be one of the best right backs in the world. He has good set piece delivery as well. I also see no reason why he wouldn’t be a great wing back either if Southgate reverts to a back 3.
Luke Shaw (Manchester United, 8 caps)
Despite being Man Utd’s player of the season as recently as 2018-19, Luke Shaw feels like a great comeback story this season. He was a youngster who always had bags of talent, and now he has blended his attacking prowess with a defensive resolve. Again, would be a great option as a wingback.
John Stones (Manchester City, 39 caps, 2 goals)
As England fans, we were all waiting for John Stones to really kick on ever since he made the big money move from Everton to Man City. Southgate was already a big fan (remember that Stones played in the centre of the back 3 at Russia 2018) and now he will be a guaranteed starter. His distribution from the back has always been great, he has become a goal threat from set pieces, and seems to have upped his concentration levels to cut out the silly mistakes, meaning Southgate can trust him to play in a back four, rather than need three centre backs for cover. He will turn 27 before the Euros, and seems to be coming into his prime.
Harry Maguire (Manchester United, 30 caps, 2 goal)
After a horrific start to the season both on and off the pitch Maguire has re-established himself as the lynch pin of the defence at Old Trafford. A cornerstone of England’s run to the semi-finals in 2018, an in-form Maguire will be vital to England doing well in 2021. Both Maguire and Stones are now used to playing at domestic level in a back four, with attacking full backs, so Southgate should be able trust them at the international level.
Those four would be my first choice backline, who fills out the squad?
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United, 0 caps)
To be honest, I think Southgate will probably choose the more experienced Kyle Walker, and may even start with him. HOWEVER, I think Southgate wants a young, ambitious team, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the type of player I want to see playing for England. He may have to bide his time to get an opportunity, but he has been very impressive for Manchester United for two full seasons now, having stepped up from Crystal Palace’s youth team to Champions League in little over three years (he only made his Palace debut in February 2018) and I’d like to see him get taken to this tournament. I’ve also thought for a long time that he has plenty of attributes to play as a centre back, and I could see him playing there in a pinch.
Ben Chilwell (Chelsea, 12 caps)
When I started this prediction article in the run up to what was meant to be Euro 2020 last year, I genuinely wrote “Ben Chilwell is England’s undisputed first choice left back. Danny Rose and Luke Shaw are nowhere near him”. Now, while that certainly still holds true for Danny Rose (who I feel very sorry for), Luke Shaw has definitely put himself in pole position for the left back spot. Chilwell is biding his time waiting for opportunities under new Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel, and hopefully will come out of it as a stronger player, but it will probably cost him a place in the England team.
Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa, 7 caps)
In January 2019, Mings couldn’t get a game at left back for Bournemouth. A loan move to Villa worked wonders, and he is now one of England’s best centre backs, after two impressive seasons in the Premier League, as long as he is clear on the offside rule – although who is these days? A bit of versatility doesn’t hurt either!
Just missing out: It looks like injury is going to cost Joe Gomez (Liverpool, 8 caps) another tournament (he probably would have played that right sided centre back role Kyle Walker took in Russia 2018). Aaron Cresswell (West Ham, 3 caps) has been a revelation under David Moyes this season, but Shaw and Chilwell are just ahead of him. England have come a long way from only having Ashley Young at left wing back in Russia!
Speaking of that World Cup, also missing out is Kyle Walker (Manchester City, 53 caps). I can’t justify taking a third specialist right back, he’s not playing every week for City, and his sending off in Iceland still rankles with me! As I mentioned when talking about Wan-Bissaka, I understand Southgate may go for Walker though, and his versatility gives a few more options for the England manager. While Walker may be about to add another Premier League winner’s medal to his collection, and Kieran Trippier (Athletico Madrid, 25 caps, 1 goal) could win La Liga, but that also would not be enough to get in my version of this squad . Reece James (Chelsea, 4 caps) is definitely one for the future and will hopefully be a star for the under 21s this summer.
Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan, on loan from Chelsea, 1 cap) is another one for the future, but has not played for Chelsea regularly enough to force his way in, although his loan move to Milan could get him there if scouting is allowed! Michael Keane (Everton 10 caps, 1 goal), James Tarkowski (Burnley, 2 caps), and Conor Coady (Wolves, 3 caps, 1 goal) are all good centre backs, but Tyrone Mings would be the back-up central defender in the squad, with his versatility getting him the nod. Ben White (Brighton, 0 caps) needs just a bit more Premier League experience, and unfortunately, it looks like the ship has sailed on Ben Mee (Burnley, 0 caps), Lewis Dunk (Brighton, 1 cap) and Jamaal Lascelles (Newcastle United, 0 caps) getting a proper chance, while Chris Smalling (Roma, 31 caps, 1 goal) doesn’t seem to be in the reckoning any more.
Jesse Lingard was a regular starter at the World Cup – can he force his way back in?
David Klein/Sportimage via PA Images
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool, 58 caps)
Last season, Jordan Henderson was the all-conquering Liverpool captain and the heart of their midfield. However he has now spent most of the year covering at centre back in a team struggling to guarantee European football next year. If he can get fit after his recent injury, he will still be a starter, and a driving force for this young team. If Southgate still has some doubts over playing a back four, Henderson could drop a bit deeper to help cover when needed.
Declan Rice (West Ham United, 13 caps, 1 goal)
Rice and Henderson as a midfield base allowing either an attacking midfielder (or a front three) to attack at will is probably the way Southgate will set the team up this summer. Rice adds bite to the team, and has improved again this season. Last year I wrote “He has struggled in a disjointed West Ham team, but hopefully David Moyes can get them – and Rice – back on track“, and he certainly has done that! Roving in front of the defence, snapping into tackles: this could be a big summer for Declan Rice.
Mason Mount (Chelsea, 13 caps, 3 goal)
Last season, Mason Mount made the transition into Premier League football look easy, being a consistent goal threat in a Chelsea team which made the Champions League and got to the FA Cup final. This season he was the bright spot in Lampard’s team, and seems to have quickly won over new manager Thomas Tuchel as well. Mount kept his place in the Chelsea following an influx of expensive attacking options, and he will keep his place in Southgate’s team barring injury ahead of the other options available. Personally the idea of playing him in the deeper role alongside one of Rice or Henderson is an intriguing option in games where England expect to have a lot of the ball, and allows for another attacking dimension in the team.
These three are my first choice midfield, but who else is going?
Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur, 43 caps, 3 goals)
This is my pragmatic choice. Imagine I’m gorging myself at an All You Can Eat buffet picking this squad – Dier is the token trip to the salad bar before diving back into the indulgent, calorific delights. He would be there mainly as cover at centre back and defensive midfield. The All Or Nothing documentary had an interesting scene where Jose Mourinho spelt out why he rates Dier so highly, although at the time of writing this he has not played him for a month. Still, he would bring some experience to the squad, and helps to balance out the squad, although Southampton and Leeds both have captains and centre midfielders who could very, very easily make the squad ahead of Dier.
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa, 5 caps)
The way Jack Grealish demands and carries the ball for Aston Villa is unlike any other English player. Goals and assists are plentiful, but hey don’t tell the full story of the way he can affect and dominate games. For me it’s time to pull the trigger and get him in the England team, but although Southgate has taken his time to warm up to Grealish, he will definitely be in the squad. He can play as a wide forward, but the most intriguing prospect for me is Grealish in a playmaker role ahead of a Rice-Mount centre midfield duo.
James Maddison (Leicester City, 1 cap)
Maddison has not had much of a chance for England so far, but hopefully Southgate doesn’t shy away from including the Leicester man. The role he plays in Brendan Rogers’ counter-attacking team could work just as well in an England team playing a low block, something he has more experience in than the other candidates in the number ten position. Also, whereas Mount and Grealish have approaching 2 seasons of Premier League football under their belts, Maddison actually has one extra year on them in that regard, and can play in centre midfield if needed.
Phil Foden (Manchester City, 3 caps, 2 goals)
Yes, I would take all four of Mount, Grealish, Maddison and Foden! I think they all offer something different. Although he has only truly been a first team starter this season (or as close as you can be in a Pep Guardiola team) he has not looked out of place amongst the Mancticos. That’s Man City Galacticos, a phrase I just made up. Foden is just that good, it would be a shame not to see him in some shape or form at Euro 2020. Although, if he plays for the Under 21s instead this summer, England would surely be favourites.
Bukayo Saka (Arsenal, 4 caps)
I don’t think Southgate agrees with me, but Saka is another youngster who, for me, is just too good to ignore. Can play either side as a wide forward, or left wing back. Or left back if we really wanted to have an attacking team! He has some inconsistency, but still has been Arsenal’s best player this season, scoring some spectacular goals. He’s the choice I’m least sure of in the whole squad, and like Foden if he doesn’t make Euro 2020, he should set his sights on winning the Under 21 championship. But who needs a fourth specialist centre back in a 23 man squad really? Be brave Gareth, take Saka!
Just missing out: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund, 1 cap) seems like a remarkable talent, but I just haven’t seen enough of him to include him. He will still only be 17 when the tournament starts, and I wouldn’t complain at all if he made the squad.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlian (Liverpool, 35 goals, 7 goals), whose versatility (he has been in good form for Liverpool, playing mostly in a midfield three, but also he can play as a wide forward) and eye for spectacular goals should make him a guaranteed squad member every time, but injuries keep derailing his progress. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur, 37 caps, 3 goals) in an England shirt, but Southgate would face serious questions if he stuck with him. Jesse Lingard‘s (West Ham, on loan from Manchester United, 24 caps, 4 goals) loan move renaissance shows it can be done, but it will be too little too late to get in the squad now. Similarly Emile Smith-Rowe (Arsenal, 0 caps) will probably have to settle for the under 21 squad this time out, as will Callum Hudson-Odoi (Chelsea, 3 caps), who is improving every game at Chelsea and will be putting pressure on England wingers very soon.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Fulham, on loan from Chelsea, 10 caps) has looked good for Fulham this season, and although there is more to come from him, he has been surpassed by others. The same goes for Ross Barkley (Aston Villa, on loan from Chelsea, 33 caps, 6 goals). Its was Brazil 2014 when Barkley played in a 0-0 draw and seemed to be ready for international football. But when on the verge of establishing himself as first team regular, he seemed to fall out of favour at Everton towards the end of his contract, never got a good run in the first team at Chelsea, and his loan spell at Villa has had ups and downs.
For the non-attacking midfield options, Harry Winks (Tottenham Hotspur, 10 caps, 1 goal) doesn’t play regularly for Spurs so I can’t put him in the squad. Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United, 4 caps) and James Ward-Prowse (Southampton, 4 caps) have both had impressive seasons for their teams and could – probably should – beat Eric Dier to a spot in the squad.
Kane, Sancho, Sterling – England’s Three Lions?
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur, 51 caps, 32 goals)
The England captain and current top scorer, Harry Kane has got even better this season, developing his all-round game while still being a lethal goal threat: he has 16 goals and 13 assists in the Premier League this season already. Surrounding him with the attacking prowess that England possess is the way to go!
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, 58 caps, 13 goals)
Probably the only England player at Russia 2018 not to come back a hero, Raheem Sterling has got better and better, winning both the Writer’s and the Player’s Player of the Year awards in 2018-19, then scoring 31 goals in all competitions for Man City last season. Sterling is going to win the Premier League again with the Mancticos, and this could be the tournament that finally sees him make the international breakthrough and getting the worldwide renown he deserves.
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund, 18 caps, 3 goals)
When a Manchester City youngster moved to Germany on deadline day 2017, no-one foresaw that he would be an indispensable part of the international team within a few years. Sancho was linked with a move back to the Premier League all through last summer, but seems happy in Germany, where he has been setting goal scoring and assist records. If Kane and Sancho can build a partnership even half as good as the ones they enjoy with Son Heung-min and Erling Haaland respectively at club level, the sky is the limit for England.
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United, 40 caps, 11 goals)
What more can be said about Marcus Rashford? A fantastic player who needs to be more clinical in front of goal, and recently passing 250 games for Man Utd, Rashford is still a young striker with a lot of experience already. He plays in a fluid front line for United and even if he’s not a guaranteed starter for England, he needs to be in the squad.
Dominic Calvert–Lewin (Everton, 5 caps, 2 goals)
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has become main stay of Everton’s first team over the last two seasons, repaying the faith shown in him. The management team of Carlo Ancelotti and Duncan Ferguson seems like the ideal partnership to mould and develop a young striker, and if he can regain full fitness before the summer, Calvert-Lewin will be in the squad. Deadly in the 6 yard box and hard working all over the park, Everton’s number 9 gives something different than the rest of the English forwards, and although he won’t displace Harry Kane in the team, he could give another option if England need to go more direct.
Just missing out: In the central striker role, Tammy Abraham (Chelsea, 6 caps, 1 goal) looked like a dead cert this time last year, however the goals dried up in the second half of the season, and a resurgent Olivier Giroud has taken his place in the Chelsea team. Timing also seems to have worked against Danny Ings (Southampton, 3 caps, 1 goal), as I wrote last year that “sometimes you get someone in the form of their life in the run up to a tournament, and that could be the case for Danny Ings. 10 goals in 10 games is the type of purple patch that brings to mind Toto Schillaci, and if he can keep up the scoring rate until May, we could see him coming off the bench if England need a goal in the Euros.” Now with England not short of attacking options, I would have to give that role to Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Patrick Bamford (Leeds United, 0 caps) has 13 goals this season, an even more impressive work ethic and links play so well, but would have to have a spectacular end to the season to make it unfortunately for him, as he’s a player I admire. Mason Greenwood (Manchester United, 1 cap) has had a tricky second season in the Man United first team with only one league goal, but is still learning his craft, and like Hudson-Odoi seems to be heading for the under 21 team this summer. Callum Wilson (Newcastle United, 4 caps, 1 goal) has 10 goals in 19 games in a bang average Newcastle side, but also just misses out. These attacking riches mean that Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa, 0 caps) does not get a look in despite ten goals in his impressive first season in the Premier League .
As for the winger/wide forward options, pretty much the only player I haven’t included is Harvey Barnes (Leicester City, 1 cap), who has suffered an injury at a bad time and might miss out simply because of that. He is yet another of the many young English attackers with a bright future, and I could see him eventually playing through the middle if he can study Jamie Vardy close up for another couple of seasons. If I was choosing some absolute wild cards, Eberechi Eze (Crystal Palace, 0 caps) has taken to the Premier League very well, and should be a star for the England Under 21 team this summer, and Ademola Lookman (Fulham, on loan from RB Leipzig, 0 caps) is a very talented winger who could get himself in the reckoning for caps someday soon.
And so that is my 23 man squad for Euro 2020 (in 2021), and my opinion on just about every other possible England player I could remember! Since you’ve read this far, this is the team I would start with in the first match against Croatia at Wembley. Will it be revenge for 2018? And 2007? Hopefully! I could see Jordan Henderson coming into the midfield for the Scotland match, and then reverting to this team for Czech Republic. England’s best chance of success is to commit to attacking football, that is where they have some of the best players in the world.
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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