How will England handle an almost-home European Championships this summer?
We’re now less than 100 days from Euro 2020 and the thoughts of many England fans have already turned to our chances of winning a major tournament.Embed from Getty Images
Originally scheduled to take place across 12 European cities, speculation has been mounting over how possible that will be by June – what we do know for sure is that the Three Lions will play each of their group stage games on home soil.
With the semi-finals and final already planned to be played at Wembley Stadium, England will have the added benefit playing in a very nearly-home tournament – provided they can navigate their way through the first two knockout rounds.
Just how much ‘at home’ England will feel may depend on whether fans will be allowed to enter the stadiums for those fixtures – but whatever happens Gareth Southgate’s side will enter the tournament as one of the favourites.
Rewind the clock 12 months and that was not quite the case as Southgate faced a nervous wait on the fitness of Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane was struggling with a hamstring problem and Jack Grealish couldn’t get a look in for selection.Embed from Getty Images
There’s no doubt that Southgate still faces a selection headache this summer, and could still lose and gain some players to injury but the form and fitness of his attackers is reason enough to give us all a bit of belief.
Formation, confidence and playing style will all be key factors that determine whether England can become European champions for the very first time but for now, let’s examine the most important part of the puzzle – the players that could make up the 23-man squad.
Look no further than Harry Kane for the man to spearhead England’s title challenge this summer. The Tottenham Hotspur striker has been one of the standout players in the Premier League this season and has been scoring goals for fun of late.
Barring injury, it’s inconceivable that Southgate will consider any other candidate as his central striker but should he be needed, Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be ready and waiting to step into Kane’s boots after a fantastic season for Everton.Embed from Getty Images
Danny Ings may also have had a chance of being on the plane but an injury sustained against Sheffield United, and the quality and versatility of England’s wider may mean he, along with Tammy Abraham, is likely to miss out.
Of those wider players the likes of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho have all been favourites with Southgate during his tenure.
Between those three they have already scored more than 40 goals for their respective clubs this season and will make it very difficult for the less-experienced candidates, such as Harvey Barnes and Mason Greenwood, to claim a spot.
The midfield department is the most uncertain part of England blueprint with Jordan Henderson the only automatic selection throughout Southgate’s tenure.
Currently sidelined with a groin problem, the Liverpool captain is expected to recover in time for the tournament and will likely partner Declan Rice in the centre of midfield with the West Ham man having become another favourite of Southgate’s
Given the England boss’ inclination towards a three-man midfield that leaves only one more spot available in the team for Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, James Maddison, James Ward-Prowse, Kalvin Phillips and Buakyo Saka.
The frustration for fans is that Southgate sees the majority of those players as ‘wide-men’ rather than central midfielders or ‘number 10s’ meaning there could be a few shock omissions come June.Embed from Getty Images
What is undeniable though is that England have an arsenal of talent at their disposal and if Southgate can get the balance between them right, the rewards will be sweet and lasting.
The defence is arguably the only area of the squad that looks in worse shape than it did 12 months ago, but all is not lost just yet.
England looked set to capitalise on having two members of Liverpool’s title-winning backline in their ranks last year but a serious injury to Joe Gomez and a distinct dip in the form of Trent Alexander-Arnold has rocked the boat somewhat.
Luckily Southgate’s abundance of right-backs means Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and the uncapped Aaron Wan-Bissaka all remain viable options should Alexander-Arnold fail to rediscover his form before the summer.Embed from Getty Images
On the opposite flank it, Ben Chillwell would’ve been a shoe-in had the tournament been last year but the current form of forgotten England man Luke Shaw could make it a close call.
And with Southgate’s tendency to play with wing-backs, don’t be surprised to see an attacking combination of Saka and Reece James leapfrog all of the big names.
The resurgence of Manchester City centre-back John Stones has been a revelation this season and will have done wonders for his case for an England spot too.
The only question is: who partners him? On history the obvious candidate would be cross-town rival Harry Maguire but Michael Keane, Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady have all made their cases for selection too.
And finally, but by no means least, England’s number one jersey has been a hot topic of debate since the World Cup back in 2018.
Jordan Pickford was the man to wear it back then and has been shown loyalty by Southgate ever since but the calls to switch Nick Pope grow have been growing ever louder.
The other name in the frame is Manchester United’s Dean Henderson however his chances will be hampered until he can permanently dethrone David De Gea as first choice at Old Trafford.
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