Euro 2020 Preview | Southgate's Best Eleven
Does Gareth Southgate Know His Best Eleven Ahead of Euro 2020?
For the first time in what feels like a lifetime to most fans, England are actually set to arrive at this summer’s European Championships nestled in amongst most football betting markets’ favourites. Their qualification campaign was amongst the best on the continent, (an obvious Czech Republic away shaped hole aside), and only Belgium scored more than the Three Lions’ haul of 31 goals across their 10 games.
With the Premier League looking more competitive than ever, and sides such as Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United increasingly bleeding through a new generation of young talent, Gareth Southgate’s task of picking his starting eleven for the tournament looks increasingly like a tough one to call. Let’s take a look at some of the key positions for England heading into the tournament, and some of the names fighting it out for a starting role.
Jordan Pickford has been England’s undisputed no.1 ever since his debut in 2017 with a 0-0 draw against Germany. The 25-year-old became a national treasure during the last World Cup, producing some heroic displays, none more so than in the infamous penalty shootout against Colombia, as England made it all the way to their first semi-final since 1990. His passion on the pitch and immense shot-stopping abilities are well known to most football fans by now, however he also averages more passes per game than his immediate rivals at 31.48 per ninety minutes, and also outranks Pope, Henderson and Ramsdale for accurate long balls at 186 across the season so far.
However, based on league performance this season, Dean Henderson is arguably the man to turn to. His Sheffield United side are currently in a staggeringly impressive 8th place with the best defence outside the league’s top two teams. Whilst Henderson is tied with Pope for clean sheets across the season with 7, Henderson’s 18 goals conceded is miles ahead of Pope’s 34. Pickford is trailing behind the two on 5 clean sheets and 32 goals conceded.
Bournemouth have truly struggled in these middle months of the Premier League season, however Aaron Ramsdale has excelled in goal for the Cherries, giving him a real outside chance of making his England debut this 2020. Out of the goalkeepers likely to be picked, Ramsdale is actually way out in front in terms of pure saves, with his 70 saves so far this season way ahead of Nick Pope’s 58, Pickford’s 55 and Henderson’s 52.
Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier were undoubtedly England’s best right backs when the Three Lions touched down in Russia during the 2018 World Cup, and Gareth Southgate found a way of incorporating the duo with his three at the back formation. However, both Walker and Trippier have struggled for form at times this season, with their respective sides both dropping out their league’s title races.
The two players really haven’t been helped by the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the past couple of seasons or so. Though they have two very different styles of play about them, it’s clear that the two right backs encapsulate the young core of talent Southgate has been striving for since his appointment.
Alexander-Arnold in particular shot to everyone’s attention last season, with his cheeky quick corner against Barcelona being an ingenious highlight and further proof of the level of confidence the Liverpool youngster has. It’s hard to look past Alexander-Arnold as England’s best full back at the moment, with the Liverpool star boasting the league’s best defensive record, two goals, eight assists across the season and 3.02 key passes per ninety minutes.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka was easily amongst the top defenders in Europe during the 2018/19 season and, for the most part, has taken this form with him to Manchester this season. He’s already won 126 duels so far this season, made 89 recoveries and registered his first assist in United’s recent win over Newcastle.
The No. 10
Dele Alli was arguably the first example of England bringing through a new generation of young talents all the way back in November 2015. 2016/17 remains Alli’s best for Spurs, racking up 18 goals and 7 assists over the season, however he’s not come close to hitting those sorts heights since and remains something of a frustrating talisman for club and country. The talent is still there for sure, however unlocking it could prove to be a gamble not worth taking at this point, especially with the capable competition stacked around him.
The most obvious competition for England’s no.10 position is coming from Leicester’s James Maddison and Chelsea’s Mason Mount, both of whom have enjoyed arguably far more productive seasons so far than Dele Alli. Maddison in particular has been brilliant for Leicester’s remarkable first half of the season, racking up 6 goals and 3 assists at an xG (Expected Goals) of -2.17 better than what he would have been expected to score. Not only does this illustrate Leicester’s overperformance this season, but is also a great indicator of Maddison’s ever-improving confidence, particularly in front of goal. Mason Mount might have slightly tailed off recently since his lightning fast start to the season for Chelsea, however his haul of 5 goals and 2 assists so far is nothing to shy away from.
Jack Grealish could also be an outside shout for a spot in Southgate’s side. Having been instrumental in Aston Villa’s promotion in the 2018/19 season, the seven-time U21 capped talisman has kept his hot form running into the current campaign. He is easily Aston Villa’s most vital player at the moment, racking up 6 goals and 5 assists at an xG of -1.15 and is sat at 2.80 key passes per ninety minutes, miles ahead of Jesse Lingard’s 1.98 and Ross Barkley’s 2.65.
Jesse Lingard was another permanent inclusion in the great England squad of 2018, racking up his best ever tally of 8 goals and 5 assists during the 2017/18 season. Since then he’s gone an entire calendar year without a goal or an assist, his United side have plummeted in our spread betting markets and his playing time in an England shirt has consistently fallen. He might be well liked by Gareth Southgate, however his performances on the pitch make it exceptionally hard to see him playing much of a part at Euro 2020.
Ever-present for Gareth Southgate, Jordan Henderson has found so much success at Liverpool in recent times that he’s surely nailed on for an opening run in the England side at Euro 2020. The other spot in Southgate’s tailored 4-3-3 midfield system could be a more interesting call however. West Ham’s Declan Rice has been used regularly by Southgate, and it’s well-known that the England manager is a big fan, however his performances for West Ham have really dropped into worryingly middling territories recently.
Tottenham’s Harry Winks looks like Rice’s immediate competition for a place in England’s Euro 2020 place, and the stats behind the two midfielders seems to indicate the Spurs man could be the wiser selection. Winks averages 52.13 passes per ninety, Rice comes in at 48.90, though he beats out the Spurs man for accurate long balls at 76 and 29 respectively.
One surprise name we may see included in England’s Euro 2020 squad is Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury. Brendan Rodgers has been showing us more and more of the 22-year-old midfielder, and it’s clear that there is some real talent there to be harnessed. His tackle success rate of 63% is slightly better than Rice’s 61%, Choudhury has blocked the same amount of shots as Rice (despite playing 8 games fewer) and boasts a much higher key passes metric per ninety than Rice.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was sadly ruled out of the 2018 World Cup with a season-ending injury, but has slowly worked his way back into becoming a far more frequent fixture in Jurgen Klopp’s soon-to-be Champions side. The dynamic and energetic midfielder averages 3.17 shots per ninety, his highest total in a season where he’s played more than three league games, and is sitting at 0.70 key passes on average a game.
Harry Maguire and John Stones were the two defenders called on most frequently by Gareth Southgate during the 2018 World Cup, with both defenders making themselves known for their aerial threat from set pieces and ability to pass the ball confidently along the ground. However, both defenders have had a mixed bag in terms of performances this season, with Stones in particular looking shaky without the assured head of Aymeric Laporte alongside him at Manchester City. Harry Maguire is now the world’s most expensive defender at Manchester United, but it’s safe to say that he hasn’t quite taken either himself or his side to new world class heights.
In terms of other options, there are plenty of Premier League centre-backs that have caught Southgate’s eye at the heart of their respective defences. James Tarkowski has been a regular for Burnley for a number of years, routinely impressing in Sean Dyche’s ultra-solid set up. Though Burnley have been unusually leaky at times this season, Tarkowski remains a largely impressive figure amongst their backline.
Lewis Dunk earned his first and only England call up last year for a friendly match against the USA, and has been one of Brighton and Hove Albion’s most valuable men ever since their promotion in 2017. Graham Potter’s passing-heavy approach at Brighton has led to Dunk rising up to 69.37 passes a game, way ahead of Maguire’s 64.34 and even Stones’ 62.00. Dunk also outranks the duo in tackle success rates at 70%, against Maguire’s 59% and Stones’ 68%.
Theo Walcott broke records for being England’s youngest ever pro at a tournament in 2006 and England have made a habit of bringing a number of youngsters with them to tournaments in the years since. The English game has seen an explosion of talent coming through the ranks in recent times and an exciting crop of youngsters look set to be in the running for a spot at Euro 2020.
Reiss Nelson has been one of Arsenal’s brightest talents ever since the dimming days of Arsene Wenger’s reign in North London, and impressed in spells during a recent loan spell to Hoffenheim, where he amassed 7 goals at an impressive xG of -3.78. Mikel Arteta’s early signs at Arsenal make it seem like the young winger is in his immediate plans so some improved game time could be exactly what Nelson needs to secure a place in Southgate’s plans.
Leicester City’s ability to lie deep, soak up pressure and hit teams on the break this season has proven to be absolutely deadly, and the pace supplied by the likes of Harvey Barnes has been increasingly the key cog in the Foxes’ machine. Developing his game to be more than just a raw pace merchant, Barnes’ end product in the final third has really shot up, already amassing 5 assists so far this season at an xA (Expected Assists) of -2.60 better than what he’s been expected to have achieved.
Morgan Gibbs-White broke through the ranks at Nuno Espirito Santos’ Wolves side throughout the 2018/19 season, amassing 26 appearances in the league and winning plenty of plaudits for his composure and agility on the ball. Injury has slightly stunted him this season, however Wolves’ progression in the Europa League and continued competition at the top of the table is sure to bring him the game time and attention needed to potentially surprise a few with an inclusion at Euro 2020.
2019/20 hasn’t been a smooth ride for most Manchester United fans, however the emergence of talents such as Brandon Williams has undoubtedly been something of a positive to look at. The young left back has already made 13 appearances for the Red Devils, looking far more confident in both defence and attack than the likes of Luke Shaw and Ashley Young and earning plenty of cries to start more regularly from the fans.
England captain Harry Kane is easily the first name on Gareth Southgate’s team sheet, already racking up 32 goals in just 45 games and moving up to sixth in the team’s all-time leading charts. His skill as a tremendous finisher and place amongst the world’s best is surely without question by now, however, there should be room in the squad for a back-up striker to keep Kane on his toes.
Callum Wilson has played for England three times since 2019, with the Bournemouth striker netting on his debut against the USA in November. He has netted five of Bournemouth’s 20 goals this season and is the only Bournemouth forward other than Harry Wilson not wasteful in terms of his xG. It’s, so far, not been as productive a campaign as 2018/19 was for the Cherries and Wilson, but it’s clear that Southgate remains a fan.
Tammy Abraham is perhaps the obvious inclusion as a back-up for Kane, with the Chelsea youngster currently the highest scoring Englishman eligible for selection. With productive loan spells at Bristol and Villa behind him, Abraham has amassed 12 goals and 3 assists in his first 20 appearances as Chelsea have defied the odds this season and flexed their top four credentials; with an xG of -1.44 better than what was expected of him, Southgate surely has to reward Abraham with a spot at Euro 2020?
Two outside shouts for a place at Euro 2020 could be Mason Greenwood and Danny Ings however. In terms of xG for the season, Greenwood is actually Manchester United’s most clinical player at -1.36 and continues to look impressively composed and clinical in front of goal, especially when you consider his age. Ings on the other hand is on a one-man mission to save Southampton from relegation, racking up 13 goals so far at a remarkable xG of -4.61.
Will England finally be able to bring something home with them from a major tournament? Does this squad deserve to be amongst the pre-tournament favourites? Make sure you check out all of our latest football spreads and betting markets for every tournament, club or country.