ON THE PLANE?
2020 should have been the year that England were able to show their credentials after successful showings in the Nations League and World Cup over the previous two years. However, the coronavirus pandemic halted proceedings quite dramatically part way through the 2019/20 season and therefore postponed the entire tournament.
With the tournament still expected to go ahead in some sort of capacity in the summer, Gareth Southgate will be observing his potential candidates very scrupulously and making sure he has picked the correct 23 men to lead the country rather than picking players based on their names. We are looking at you Fabio Capello!
Who are the guaranteed men?
There are always going to be several names that meet Southgate’s criteria and they come in the form of the players he trusts. It is notable that Southgate has tried to keep the core together from his 2018 semi final team that took Russia by surprise and produced one of the best summers that England has ever experienced. Just as I mention Russia, I find myself humming the Atomic Kitten tune “Whole Again”.
The players that you would assume that are guaranteed a place on the flight (if there is one!) would be captain Harry Kane and his supporting act of Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. All three of these players are vital to how a Southgate England side tick. With control in the midfield from Jordan Henderson, another name guaranteed to be in the 23 man squad, these three can punish most defences in Europe.
Dropping further back into defence, you can see how much trust Southgate has in Harry Maguire as he has been an ever present member of the manager’s starting eleven since he made his debut in 2017. Across the back line with Maguire, you will expect to see Kyle Walker who can slot into a back four or a back three depending on how England setup.
Behind the defence is a contentious position according to many pundits and fans alike but it seems Southgate is going to stick with the man who ousted long term goalkeeper Joe Hart and that is Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. There is no denying that Pickford is a great shot stopper but to quote Roy Keane, it's his job to make saves. With competition from Nick Pope and Dean Henderson for the number one spot, it would take something monumental to make Southgate change his mind on Pickford.
Who is certain to make the cut?
Since the heroics of 2018, Southgate has also put his trust in several players who have performed exceptionally for club and country. Declan Rice is one of these players to have really made an impact on the England side and deputised in both the midfield as well as the defence, proving his versatility and importance to this young emerging side. Rice fits into that same category as Mason Mount who is very trusted by Southgate, much to his detriment. Sometimes with Jack Grealish and James Maddison breathing down his neck Mount has come under a lot of pressure but the England manager sees him as the focal point in the attacking midfield and Mount is a very good talent.
Other young talents who have secured a place in Southgate’s reckoning include Dominic Calvert- Lewin, Jadon Sancho, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Phil Foden, Ben Chilllwell, Bukayo Saka and Reece James. These players are typical of a Southgate selection, young, hungry for success and relatable. When Southgate arrived he wanted his England side to be loved again and when you have fresh attacking talent like the aforementioned players it is hard not enjoy watching England play, the concern comes with Southgate not letting the shackles off a bit sooner in games to allow them to really prosper.
An honourable mention has to go to Kalvin Phillips who has taken to international football like a duck to water. When he was playing for Leeds United in the Championship it was clear he was playing below his standard but playing in the Premier League has made him an even better player. With England, he has brought a different dimension to the team and one that can not be overlooked.
However, despite a look towards the future, the former Middlesbrough manager does have his old reliables still in the likes of Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier and Harry Winks that you anticipate will make the final 23 man squad.
Who needs to prove a point?
There are several players who need to prove a point but for different reasons to impress Southgate. Pickford has already been mentioned about his shortcomings but someone who has not experienced many shortcomings for his club but is struggling to establish himself for his country is Jack Grealish. The Aston Villa man has been playing out of his skin for Villa and is a leading example, on the pitch maybe not so much off it, of how to create something out of nothing. It is hard to say what he needs to do next to be England’s creative man but he must carry on doing what he is doing so well to keep himself right in the thick of it.
An area that England are struggling to settle on is a centre back partner for Maguire. The main player to be challenging for that position is Grealish’s teammate Tyrone Mings. The towering centre back is a dominating figure and has stood out in Aston Villa’s season making them more stout in defence but also is an option from corners; which suits Southgate’s style of play.
Who could be the wildcard selections?
If form is anything to go by we could see a return to the England fold for John Stones and Luke Shaw. Both men have impressed in Manchester for their respective clubs. With Stones partnering Reuben Dias and looking the equal of his Portuguese teammate we could see a return to the Maguire and Stones partnership of 2018.
The resurgence of form for Shaw must have grabbed the attention of the England manager as well as Stones’ because the full back has been marauding down the left hand side with a lot of freedom contributing four assists for the Red Devils.
England do need another option when going forward in attack and cannot just rely on Kane. Southgate has taken closer looks at Calvert-Lewin and Tammy Abraham more recently but names like Callum Wilson, Danny Ings and more importantly Patrick Bamford cannot be ignored. All have impressive goal scoring records with Ings finding the net seven times in the league this season, Wilson ten times and Bamford eleven. Bamford might be the one to get the nod due to his better injury record if Southgate decides to go down that route.