By Andrew Warshaw
June 2 – England manager Gareth Southgate has named a controversial squad of 26 for this month’s delayed European Championship as the country once again bids to win a major trophy for the first time since the 1966 World Cup.
Southgate faced several huge calls to get the balance right as he reduced the original party of 33 by seven players – well, six in fact after Mason Greenwood withdrew through injury.
On the plus side Southgate has put his faith in Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold whose selection had been in serious doubt. But his choice of no fewer than four specialist right backs to the detriment of other positions raised eyebrows across the media and regular pundits.
Southgate’s reasoning was that all four were too good to leave out and could play in any position across the defence but the omission of Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse – one of the best freekick specialists in the country – fuelled debate over whether the manager had made a catastrophic error of judgement especially since at the last World Cup England scored nine goals from set-plays.
Risks aside, Southgate has probably made the right calls in selecting Liverpool and Manchester United captains Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire despite both of them having suffered bad injuries in the final part of the season.
McGuire missed last week’s Europa League final because of an ankle ligament injury while Henderson hasn’t played since February due to a groin problem.
The pair are two of England’s most experienced players, with McGuire crucial to England’s often creaking defence. But elsewhere the lop-sided nature of the squad represents a major gamble in terms of balance.
England play almost all their games on home soil and will need to take advantage of that to stand a realistic chance. If, and it’s a big if, they fire on all cylinders, there are plenty of exciting attacking options to put fear into the opposition. Whilst skipper Harry Kane will obviously burden the biggest goal-scoring responsibility, the likes of 22-year-old Mason Mount and Phil Foden, just 21, are huge talents that can swing games in a flash.
The biggest surprise, perhaps, in a squad with an average age of 25 – one of the youngest in the competition – is the inclusion of 17-year-old Jude Bellingham who plays for Borussia Dortmund alongside Jadon Sancho who also makes the cut as does Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka
“Jude is phenomenal,” Southgate said. “Just in training the last couple of days, to have a 17-year-old compete with senior players – he not only has the technique but the competitiveness, the maturity. He is a hugely exciting player and we aren’t just taking him for the experience.”
There was disappointment not only for Ward-Prowse but also for the likes of on-loan Jesse Lingard and Ollie Watkins, forwards who have had fantastic seasons with West Ham and Aston Villa respectively, fuelling heated discussions about the wisdom – or otherwise – of Southgate focussing most of his attention on so-called bigger clubs.
Lingard, a regular at the 2018 World Cup, is arguably a victim of England’s embarrassment of riches up front.
“For me personally, it was very difficult to speak to Jesse, who has given so much to England, has performed so well for England over a long period of time, James Ward-Prowse who has been captain of the under-21s and then Ollie Watkins, who had a tremendous season with Aston Villa,” explained Southgate.
All the dropped players will remain in the squad for pre-tournament friendlies against Austria tonight and Romania on Sunday.
“We’ve still got two matches to play which they will be involved in and if we pick up injuries that group of players are the ones who are on standby,” said Southgate, adding that Lingard was likely to start against Austria.
Teams competing in Euro 2020 can make changes before their first match but only due to injury or illness.
Southgate said it would be tight for Maguire, as well as Henderson, to make the opening game against Croatia, a repeat of the 2018 World Cup semi-final.
But defending his selections to the hilt, he added: “Basically they are in our best 26 footballers and that’s why they are in the squad and if I could have picked a fifth or a sixth right back I probably would have done.
“We are here to play nine games and already have some injury doubts in the group. I’m sure we’re going to face other difficulties over the next five weeks so we need adaptability, we need good players, good professionals.”
Goalkeepers:Dean Henderson (Manchester United), Sam Johnstone (West Bromwich Albion), Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Defenders:Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers), 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 United), Declan Rice (West Ham United)
Forwards:Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Harry Kane(Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
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