It’s a bit of a debate right now, so here’s how we think England’s squad should look at the Euros.
Gareth Southgate had looked to be heading in to play a 3-4-3, but in the last international break, we saw a return to the 4-3-3 in the most recent fixtures. This gives a lot more potential for flexibility and better suits a lot of the players in England’s squad.
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson (Substitute: Nick Pope, Reserve: Jordan Pickford)
Nick Pope had a chance to stake his claim in the last international break. He didn’t take it. His lack of surety with the ball at his feet is not what Gareth Southgate looks for. On the other hand, Jordan Pickford has simply had too many high profile errors to be trusted for England. Dean Henderson on the other hand, has been England’s best keeper in recent months.
Having wrestled away the starting spot at Manchester United from David De Gea, he’s put in some excellent performances for the Old Trafford club. A vocal presence at the back, he would help command England’s defence. Capable of playing out of the back, and a reliable shot stopper, he should be donning the gloves for England at the Championships.
Right Back: Kyle Walker (Substitute: Trent Alexander-Arnold)
For all of the young talents in this squad, the sheer athleticism and flexibility of Kyle Walker demand he is included. Able to play as a wing-back, a centre back on the right side of the three or as a traditional right back, he is Southgate’s jack of all trades. Whilst not the best attacking outlet, when compared to Trent Alexander-Arnold, his sheer speed makes him a threat.
His ability to play in a back three also lends a reason for him to start. His presence allows England to switch up and allow a more attacking wing-back, such as Alexander-Arnold to come on and open up opposition defences. He’s also one of the elder statesmen in the squad, and his experience will be vital.
Centre-backs: Harry Maguire, John Stones (Substitutes: Conor Coady, Lewis Dunk)
This is arguably where England are weakest. John Stones and Harry Maguire provide the best options for the Three Lions. Joe Gomez if fit, would compete with these two, but given his knee injury, it looks like he’ll miss out. The major benefit with this pair is their comfortability on the ball. Both are happy to bring the ball out from the back, and will help England progress the ball.
However, neither are the most athletic of defenders, so the Three Lions will have to be careful of leaving them isolated. Maguire in particular, can look vulnerable when isolated against speedy strikers. However, they’re certainly the best options for Southgate. Where controversy arrives is in the form of backup defenders.
While Eric Dier and Tyrone Mings are Southgate’s go-to rotation centre-halves, the pair are in desperately poor form. This is especially obvious when you look at some of the other options. Conor Coady, despite a poor season at Wolves, has performed well for England, and is another who is more than capable on the ball. Meanwhile, Lewis Dunk has been a consistently brilliant marshal of Brighton’s backline, and is comfortable playing in a back four or three.
Left-back: Luke Shaw (Substitute: Ben Chilwell)
Luke Shaw has gone from being a bit of a joke, to being arguably the best full-back in England this season. Similar to Kyle Walker, he’s adept at playing either as an orthodox left-back, or on the left of a back three. He’s more than happy to get forward with the ball, and is a solid defender. Where he was previously accused of lacking was his creativity going forward. That’s changed now.
He’s created 3.3 shots per 90 on average for the last 12 months according to FBref. This puts him higher than 96% of his contemporaries. His fabulous cross for Harry Kane against Albania in their recent match was an excellent showcase of his ability. Ben Chilwell, now playing for Chelsea represents a great back-up for Shaw but hasn’t been performing at the same level.
Defensive Midfield: Declan Rice, (Substitute: Kalvin Phillips)
Declan Rice is by far the first choice for England. Capable of playing in a midfield two or as a lone six in a 4-3-3, his versatility alone marks him out. A physical player, he likes to engage in challenges and break up play, often acting as a foil for a more attacking midfield partner. However, this season at West Ham, he has started to take on more responsibility with the ball at his feet.
While playing at a slightly lower standard, Kalvin Phillips is a worthy deputy. Since reverting to a deeper playmaking role under Marcelo Bielsa, he has become a vital player at Elland Road. While an active defender, where he’d be best utilised would be someone to assist in counter-attacking in the England set up. His ability to find attackers from range would be excellent against a high-pressing outfit.
Advanced midfielders: Jordan Henderson and Mason Mount (Substitutes: Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham)
For the number eight roles in front of Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Mason Mount are the obvious choices. Henderson is every bit the kind of veteran midfielder that is required in tournaments such as this. Famous for his vocal leadership, and his seemingly inexhaustible engine, he provides the experienced head in a youthful England squad. He also has the discipline to cover any full-backs his right-back might make ahead of him.
Mason Mount completes the midfield. His tenacity, both on and off the ball provides England with a driving force from midfield. Incredibly adept at receiving the ball, he’s more than capable of beating the press and breaking opposition lines. He also adds a goal threat from midfield, with three goals in England’s last seven matches.
Finally there’s Jude Bellingham, one of the standout midfield talents in the world, never mind England. Despite his tender age of 17, he is a regular starter for Borussia Dortmund. A true box-to-box midfielder, he’s an extremely capable option, with his recent display against Manchester City impressing many observers.
Meanwhile, Phil Foden provides the opportunity to bring along a specialised attacking midfielder. Able to play as a 10, as an eight, or a right-winger, his ability on the ball is almost unparalleled in this squad.
Left-Wing: Jack Grealish (Subs: Marcus Rashford)
Jack Grealish has gone from a prospect to a standout talent in the Premier League. The most fouled player in the division, he is a brilliant dribbler of the ball, and capable of outrageous skill. He’s often compared to Paul Gascoigne, and it’s easy to see why, given the stylistic similarities between the two. However, for all his qualities and his creativity, he’s not a true goal threat. That’s where Rashford comes in.
Where Grealish is a gifted dribbler, who looks to act as a playmaker, Rashford is a direct, inside forward. He’s at his best carrying the ball into space, where his sheer pace makes him truly terrifying for defenders. Having him as a player to run at tired defenders late on is a fantastic option.
Centre Forward: Harry Kane (Substitute: Dominic Calvert-Lewin)
This is certainly the easiest pick for the starting XI. Aside from Robert Lewandowski, as a true number 9, Harry Kane is unrivaled. Capable of dropping deep, playing off the shoulder, and finishing off either foot, he’s a masterful striker. His passing ability is also a vital weapon for this England squad. With the speed of England’s wide forwards, for Kane to be happy to drop off and drag defenders out of position allows for more of a goalscoring threat from the wide players.
The option off the bench is Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Capable of playing in a front two or as a lone striker, his main threat is in the air. If a route one option is required, he’s the perfect option. If England are down, and he’s receiving service from out wide, he could be a potent weapon for Gareth Southgate.
Right-wing: Raheem Sterling: (Subs: Jadon Sancho)
Where Jack Grealish’s technique is what attracts a coach, it’s Sterling’s speed on the ball that puts him in the starting XI. Few attackers in the world run with the ball as well as Sterling, with his pace and low centre of gravity making him a nightmare for defenders. This added to his tournament experience, and his in-game intelligence makes him a sure-fire starter.
To back him up, Sancho is the perfect option. Capable of playing across the front line, he’s the perfect rotation for Gareth Southgate’s squad. In arguably his worst season as a starting player for Dortmund, he still has six goals and nine assists in 21 Bundesliga appearances. While he hasn’t always performed at his best for England, he’s far too good to not be in the squad.