The oldest rivalry in football returns to the big stage as England and Scotland meet in a major tournament for the first time since Euro 96 England search for a second consecutive Euro 2020 group stage victory, and Scotland know anything less than a point will all but end their hopes of qualifying for the next round. The Three Lions were impressive in their 1-0 win over Croatia and will go into this game as the firm favourites. However, this fixture will have that unpredictable air which only a derby can bring. Scotland will need to improve, despite showing good...
England Euro 2020 Squad Announcement: Key Questions
Gareth Southgate has cut his England squad down to size ahead of the European Championship this summer
England take on Austria and Romania this week in friendlies as they prepare to meet Croatia in their opening group game of Euro 2020. There are several key questions facing the England manager before that grudge match against the side which knocked them out of World Cup 2018 at the semi final stage. Southgate's final squad selection has created numerous narratives to be dissected by a ravenous media and social media horde over the coming weeks. Ultimately, whether he has made the right or wrong calls will be defined by whether or not the nation tastes success this summer for the first time since 1966.
This squad has competition for places the likes of which England has never seen. Many consider this a "good headache" to have but in reality it just leads to more criticism from bipartisan fans who believe any choice other than the player of their team is a wrong one. He's had to leave some popular faces on the standby list because he simply cannot fit everyone in. Then there are those crucial players who are just now returning from injury. Did Southgate make the right choice when he included the likes of Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson? We don't yet know but you can be sure that every England fan on the planet has a strong opinion one way or another.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and the right back conundrum
Many are calling this a "Golden Age" for England. Well it certainly is a golden age for English right backs. Weeks before the squad was even announced Southgate was getting abuse for omitting Trent Alexander-Arnold, who he included in the end. Before the first team has been picked he is criticised for choosing to start Kyle Walker or Kieran Trippier over the Liverpool right back, again before a ball is kicked or a team selected. Being the England manager is never fun. Manchester United fans are even angry that their guy Aaron Wan-Bissaka isn't in the squad when, with all due respect to him, he isn't in the discussion with four players who between them have all won major league and/or European titles in the past two years.
So who starts at right back for England at Euro 2020 🤷♂️ pic.twitter.com/wSo4mQ7Qyd— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 1, 2021
In the end he went with Alexander-Arnold, Walker, Trippier and Chelsea's Reece James. He clearly took this decision to make everybody happy but of course it backfired. Taking four rights back to a tournament when only four midfielders are named is patently ludicrous, but the England boss justified it by talking up the versatility of those chosen. Valid point but still four right backs is a little much. Having navigated the conundrum of the squad selection, he will now have to decide who is most fit to start the opening game, knowing full well he will be in for a cascade of criticism from all sides no matter who he chooses, a true dilemma indeed.
Gareth Southgate has several crucial players either injured or recovering from injury in the squad. Centre back Harry Maguire sustained an ankle injury against Aston Villa on May 9 and missed Manchester United's final four league games. He only made the bench for their Europa League final defeat to Villarreal. Reports suggest he's making progress but will be a serious doubt for the group games. England have been here before with injured players making the squad and it rarely works out. Does the manager have a plan for how and when to implement Maguire?
"It is going to be tight for the first game, there is no question."— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) June 1, 2021
Jordan Henderson only returned to the bench for Liverpool in their final game of the season against Crystal Palace, having not played a competitive fixture since Feb 20 against Everton. He missed several months with a groin injury which required surgery. There's no denying how valuable he would be to an England team at the Euros and how desperately Southgate will want to get him in that midfield, but is it worth gambling on a player who must surely be well short of match fitness?
Jack Grealish missed twelve games for Aston Villa this season, returning for their last four games of the campaign, making three appearances off the bench and starting their final match against Chelsea, in which he shone and looked back to his best. On that evidence, Grealish should surely be in and around the starting lineup for the Euros but he may also not be completely up to speed. Of the three, he is probably the least important structurally but also the one most capable of making an impact, at least off the bench.
Will Southgate gamble on all three? Big decisions ahead for the England manager.
Jesse Lingard is on standby
The case of Jesse Lingard is a curious one. He's always performed well for England and has become somewhat of a fan favourite. He started five matches in the World Cup run to the semi finals. Southgate clearly sees him as someone he can rely on. However, since then he has been out in the cold at Manchester United, playing less and less games each season until this year he was loaned out to West Ham in the January transfer window. He has been a revelatory signing, scoring 9 goals and getting 4 assists in 16 appearances. Nobody saw that coming. Lingard played a key role in getting The Hammers into the Europa League and for that reason many believed he deserved a call up.
He was named in the provisional 33-man squad but has been axed from the final 26. However, the England manager has said in the press that he and the other unlucky ones are only "on standby" and should the squad face any injury issues he can be parachuted back in any time before England kick off against Croatia. He is sure to start the friendly tonight against Austria and try to stay relevant in case such a mishap should happen, but many will argue that it was a mistake not to include him in the squad proper. International football is said to be all about form and in this calendar year Jesse Lingard's form has been outstanding and arguably much better than some of his counterparts who made the cut.
Jesse Lingard misses out on a place at Euro 2020 💔— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 1, 2021
The only forward in England’s squad with more Premier League goals this year is Harry Kane. pic.twitter.com/PhTtiYEIzZ
Who will get the nod up front?
Two positions which are very much up in the air are the two wide berths either side of Harry Kane, who is of course the first name on the team sheet. Of the available attackers, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is more of a centre forward and will be Kane's backup, Bukayo Saka can operate up the pitch but in reality he is there to provide left back cover or potentially slot in as wing back if Southgate goes for three at the back, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are in poor form (and probably shouldn't be there over Lingard) and Jack Grealish has only just come back from a long term injury.
Grealish could definitely do something off the bench and if he proves his fitness he could even start, but really it looks like Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho are the real contenders to support Kane. Southgate will have to decide which of the three he trusts least and that player will likely be relegated to substitute appearances. As with the right back conundrum, whoever he leaves out it will surely cause a national outrage in England, but if he is basing his decisions solely on reducing the flack he gets in the media, Sancho would be the best choice. Most England fans haven't watched a single Bundesliga game this season and won't really care if he doesn't play. City and Chelsea fans respectively are more likely to kick up a fuss if their playmakers are absent from the starting lineup.
Mason Mount 🏴— Goal (@goal) May 26, 2021
Jesse Lingard 🏴
Phil Foden 🏴
Jadon Sancho 🏴
Raheem Sterling 🏴
Bukayo Saka 🏴
Jack Grealish 🏴
Marcus Rashford 🏴
Mason Greenwood 🏴
Ollie Watkins 🏴
Harry Kane 🏴
Dominic Calvert-Lewin 🏴
The attacking talent in England's provisional Euro 2020 squad 🤩 pic.twitter.com/2oQNrH5RI4
Is optimism in the air?
So despite leading England to their best finish at a major tournament since 1990, England manager Gareth Southgate is in the firing line. He has a fantastic squad at his disposal but that could be both a blessing and a curse as he tries to navigate the choppy waters of the tournament media frenzy. He has some big questions ahead and some big decisions to make. This week's friendly games should tell us a lot more about the direction he wants to go in.
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