The domestic football season is almost over. By Sunday night the trophies, relegations and European places across the continent will be decided with just the finals of the Europa and Champions League to be played. Next Tuesday, Gareth Southgate will announce his 26 man squad for the delayed European Championships. Here we look at the remaining dilemmas for Southgate ahead of his big announcement.
Jack & Jordan’s Fitness Race
It wouldn’t be England going to a major tournament without an injury crisis, this time it’s Jordan Henderson and Jack Grealish. Both have been missing for 12 weeks and Henderson hasn’t reappeared with Liverpool, although Jurgen Klopp remains convinced Henderson will be ready. Grealish has made a recent comeback with Aston Villa but has looked a long way short of full fitness.
England have a long history of gambling on half fit players from Bryan Robson to Wayne Rooney, David Beckham to Gareth Barry and Jack Wilshere and it’s rarely worked. Southgate showed by not taking Adam Lallana to the World Cup he’s not likely to make the same mistake as his predecessors.
Henderson appears the bigger doubt, given he hasn’t played in months and his role as a midfield dynamo requires full fitness, with nobody wanting a repeat of Jack Wilshere’s horrific showing at Euro 2016. Southgate has already road tested his plan B with Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips beginning to form an understanding in midfield, with Phillips a deep lying playmaker and Rice playing higher up the pitch.
In Henderson’s likely absence, Southgate is likely to add James Ward-Prowse to the squad as a back-up option with the precocious Jude Bellingham likely to be rewarded for an impressive season at Dortmund with a place in the squad.
Grealish’s hopes look rosier now he is back playing, his role in the squad is also different to Henderson’s. Mason Mount is the more likely choice as a starting number ten , with Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho challenging Marcus Rashford & Raheem Sterling in the wide forward roles. Grealish is more likely to be used as a impact substitute, using his ability to keep the ball and draw fouls from defenders when England need to see out a tight game. How Grealish performs over the last week of the season in terms of minutes played may well decide his fate.
Central Defensive Headache
Another injury problem struck when Harry Maguire damaged his ankle ligaments against Villa two weeks ago. The central defender remains touch and go for next week’s Europa League final but with the Euros a further three weeks away, Maguire appears unlikely to miss the tournament outright.
However, Southgate may decide to take a three rather than two back-up central defenders and there are concerns with all the likely candidates. Tyrone Mings looks likely to go as Maguire’s understudy as a left footed central defender, although he too has suffered injury niggles of late.
On the right Eric Dier has suffered a horrendous drop off in form, with Southgate in attendance for his Spurs horror show at Leeds. Conor Coady impressed in the autumn internationals but plays in a Wolves defence that’s shipping goals and appears drained of form. That could reopen the door for Michael Keane who was surprisingly left out of Southgate’s March squad. Meanwhile Joe Gomez has the misfortune to miss out through injury at consecutive tournaments.
Right Back Overload
England have an embarrassment of riches at right back and Southgate will leave at least one high profile name at home. Kyle Walker is a certainty to go after a hugely impressive season at Manchester City. Kieran Trippier remains a dependable and experienced option and is coming off a title contending season with Atletico Madrid. Reece James has made a positive start to his England career and looks the best fit on the right if Southgate switches to a 3-4-3 formation.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has responded to being dropped in March with some impressive displays for Liverpool. However doubts remain about the defensive side of his game and he’s not a fit if England switch systems. Assuming Southgate does go with three options Alexander-Arnold looks likely to be the odd man out with Trippier the pick of the group defensively and James the most suited to play wing-back.
A Wildcard Pick?
Southgate wasn’t in favour of the expansion of squads to 26 players but it does offer him extra cover and the option of picking a wildcard player. In 2018 he went for the uncapped Alexander-Arnold and it seems very likely he’ll take at least one in-form player with little prior England experience. Mason Greenwood looks a strong candidate after a strong end to the season at Manchester United. Greenwood offers a dead-eye finisher and would be a useful option off the bench, it also appears Southgate has forgiven the player for his indiscretion in Iceland.
Patrick Bamford was unlucky to miss out in March, but offers a like for like back up to Kane. Ollie Watkins got his debut in March and can play across the frontline and Danny Ings has looked impressive since returning to fitness.
Away from the strikers, two possible options on the left wing are Leeds’ Jack Harrison and Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. Saka made his England debut earlier this season whilst Harrison’s goals and assists record is becoming hard to ignore. Emile Smith-Rowe is another bright prospect who might come into contention if Grealish misses out, as could James Maddison although the Leicester playmaker is also making his way back to full fitness after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Given England’s issues in central defence Southgate might go for a young defender to round out the squad. Ben Godfrey has enjoyed an impressive season at Everton and don’t rule out Fikayo Tomori who’s enjoyed a strong loan spell at AC Milan and looks set for a permanent switch to the San Siro.
Predicted 26 man England Squad:
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Dean Henderson
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Reece James, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Michael Keane, Tyrone Mings,
Midfielders: Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, James Ward-Prowse, Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount, Jesse Lingard, Jack Grealish
Forwards: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phil Foden, Mason Greenwood
Stand by List: Sam Johnstone, Conor Coady, Bukayo Saka, Ollie Watkins