Gareth Southgate has picked his final 26-man squad for Euro 2020, with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s inclusion a headline decision from the England boss.
Southgate had named a 33-man provisional squad last week as he waited on several key players nursing injuries but seven players were cut on UEFA’s squad deadline day of June 1.
From Southgate’s plethora of right-backs to Jesse Lingard and James Ward-Prowse’s omission, we dissect the big talking points as England’s preparations can begin in earnest for Croatia on June 13…
The seven cut from provisional squad
James Ward-Prowse, Ollie Watkins, Jesse Lingard, Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Ben Godfrey, Mason Greenwood
Alexander-Arnold among four right-backs – but versatility king
It looked as though Trent Alexander-Arnold’s return to the England fold would last for a matter of days, but after months of debate, the 22-year-old is in.
The right-back’s omission from Southgate’s spring selection prompted widespread discussion, but Alexander-Arnold finished the season with his domestic struggles seemingly behind him, perhaps spurred by Southgate’s snub in March.
He played a key role in Liverpool’s unlikely ascent into the Champions League spots, providing four assists and scoring once in their final nine Premier League games.
Very rarely in the last three decades has an England manager had such a wealth of options in one position, and choosing between a Champions League winner in Reece James, La Liga winner in Kieran Trippier, Premier League winner in Kyle Walker and 2019/20 Premier League winner in Alexander-Arnold appeared an impossible job.
But Southgate has plumped for all four.
#fourrightbacks was swiftly used on Twitter but Southgate appears to have prized versatility, and while an eye-catching 10 defenders included heightens the possibility of England playing five at the back, James, Walker, Trippier and Alexander-Arnold can all play in different set-ups.
Only last week the England boss said: “Trent can play right-back, wing-back and in midfield. He’s a terrific footballer – that’s something I’ve never disputed.”
The big decision was perhaps one to be expected from Southgate the pragmatist after all.
Flexibility seems to have helped Bukayo Saka’s case, too.
Still only 19, the Arsenal man has played in a variety of positions from left-back to right wing but remained a shining light in a miserable Arsenal season wherever he played and proved his attacking prowess too, with seven goals and six assists in 2020/21.
“We have been able to cover ourselves in different positions, different tactical formations,” Southgate said.
Ward-Prowse omission raises set-piece debate
With James Ward-Prowse not included, England have lost a large chunk of their threat from set-pieces.
And while England fans might demand free-flowing, attacking football, set-pieces are undoubtedly a huge part of Southgate’s thinking.
In 2018, England set a record for most set-piece goals at a World Cup since 1966 – nine of their 12 goals came from the dead ball. Taking away the three penalties scored by Harry Kane, five of England’s goals came from either corners or free-kicks.
Ward-Prowse, a master of the dead ball, created 1.08 chances per game from a set play in the Premier League last season (ranked 5th in the division) and made seven assists from a set play (ranked 1st).
But Southgate will feel he has options. Though Alexander-Arnold’s impact was less impressive in 2020/21, he did top the assist charts from the dead ball in 2019/20 with seven.
Mason Mount created 1.28 chances per game from set-pieces in 2020/21 (ranked 3rd), and Luke Shaw made 0.98 (7th). Kieran Trippier, too, is a fine option.
As long as Kane isn’t on corners…
Maguire in – but will he be fit in time?
Harry Maguire’s ankle ligament injury meant he missed Manchester United’s defeat in the Europa League final last week against Villarreal, but Southgate has included his key centre-back.
Gary Neville said in mid-April that an injury to Maguire would be worse for England than an injury to Harry Kane. England’s fears came true just three weeks later, and with the hope that Maguire could recover in time to play some part in this tournament, Southgate has risked it.
This isn’t the first time England have brought an injured player to a major tournament; David Beckham (2002), Wayne Rooney (2006 and 2010) and Jack Wilshere (2016) are notable examples.
Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips were Southgate’s other injury worries but the pair have trained with their international team-mates and are ready to play their part.
“The most complex part this time has been those injuries and whether we should take the chance on people,” Southgate said.
“With Jordan and with Harry Maguire, we’ve got a couple of players who are not where we’d be ideally in terms of their physical prep. But we think that the experience they have, the fact that we think we can get them to a point where they can have an involvement in the tournament, it’s worth taking them, especially as we’ve got an extended squad of 26.”
Greenwood’s England redemption must wait
Southgate had made it clear that Mason Greenwood, named in his provisional squad, was starting with a clean slate after being withdrawn from the camp in September after an ill-timed breach of coronavirus quarantine guidelines in Iceland.
The Manchester United youngster’s glut of goals late in the season had felt conversely well-timed; he matched Harry Kane for goals after April and his ability to operate on either flank or in the middle added to his armoury, even amid England’s myriad attacking options.
But Greenwood’s sense of England redemption must wait after it was confirmed on the morning of Southgate’s squad announcement that he had withdrawn to recuperate from an underlying groin injury.
Manchester United delivered the news themselves, stressing in a statement that a “further spell of tournament football would not be beneficial” for their young forward.
“It’s significant that this was an announcement that’s come from Manchester United – not from the FA or Southgate,” said Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett. “My impression is that was Man Utd trying to stave off a situation where Greenwood later in the day may not have been included anyway.
“But it’s very possible that Southgate and his medical squad had open discussions with Man Utd and that they came to an agreement given Southgate has lots of other options. I don’t think there will be any animosity; both parties have clearly decided it doesn’t make sense for him to go.”
Greenwood will instead remain in Manchester to rest in time for pre-season, October’s World Cup Qualifiers his next chance to impress for his country.
Attacking riches but Lingard, Watkins aggrieved?
Southgate has an embarrassment of attacking riches – to the extent that Danny Ings and Patrick Bamford were left out of the provisional squad altogether.
Ollie Watkins and Jesse Lingard were casualties on squad deadline day and after fine seasons, both are likely to feel a little aggrieved.
Lingard posted stellar stats on loan at West Ham in the second half of the season – a case perhaps of too little, too late for Southgate – while Watkins’ running statistics made for a solid argument for his inclusion.
The man who was playing non-league football in 2015 was 10th for distance covered in the Premier League last season – the next striker on that list was Kane in 24th – and third for sprints; would his tireless running to drag defences have helped England on the counter-attack and against low blocks?
Southgate might have made his picks but debate will continue over the best attacking blend, especially given that Harry Kane and Dominic Calvert-Lewin are the only traditional centre-forwards.
Out wide, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish have arguably outshone traditional starters Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford this season – but Jadon Sancho picked up form towards the end of the season with Borussia Dortmund.
The stats suggest Grealish and Sancho rank as England’s most creative wide men this season – followed by Foden and Rashford.
Lingard and Greenwood will have to settle for watching England on the TV this summer but Southgate’s squad is still packed with forward talent – and that means plenty still to ponder.
Bellingham by no means a ‘Walcott’ inclusion
Always keen to strike the balance between familiarity, experience and potential, it was inevitable that Southgate would give one of England’s younger talents a place in this squad.
Jude Bellingham has long been talked about as that player, but this is by no means a ‘Theo Walcott selection’. This 17-year-old has already shown maturity beyond his years, and is likely to get minutes where Walcott, a 16-year-old inclusion in Sven Goran Eriksson’s 2006 World Cup squad, got none.
In hindsight, Sven’s decision was bizarre, but Bellingham has already shown in an England shirt, and in a Dortmund shirt against Europe’s best, that he is worthy of significant playing time this summer.
Incredibly, Bellingham has nearly 100 appearances to his name, and is a natural stand-in or even starter in a midfield that looks to balance defence with attack.
Commenting on Bellingham’s inclusion, Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith said: “Bellingham provides a contrast there with Declan Rice. Bellingham is an up-and-down midfielder, and has had a brilliant season. Even as a 17-year-old he has that temperament and experience.”
England’s 26-man squad for Euro 2020
Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Jordan Pickford (Everton).
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City).
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds), Declan Rice (West Ham).
Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Phil Foden (Man City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Man City).
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Pick and share your team for the opening match against Croatia on June 13 at Wembley.
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