Following on from a bittersweet World Cup run in Russia, England were determined to put things right in the summer of 2020. There was a heightened sense of optimism among the players, fans, and media alike but then Covid-19 struck. Although football has been able to resume behind-closed-doors, the spark of this England team seems to have been lost a bit. They finished 3rd in their Nations League group, and Southgate’s team selections are causing a stir among fans. But has the one-year delay of the tournament also given a crop of mercurial young English talents the chance to have an extra season to develop before bursting onto the international stage? I’ll give my prediction for the 23 players that I think will be making the cut.
This England squad has improved tenfold since the infamous defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016, and as such, there are some outstanding players that are almost certain to make the England squad this summer even if their form drops off, providing they stay fit.
Harry Kane: World-class striker, England captain. No brainer.
Jordan Henderson: Captained Liverpool to their first Premier League title in 30 years after lifting the Champions League a year earlier. He has the winning experience, leadership, and quality needed to drive this team forward.
Raheem Sterling: While he splits opinions among fans, on his day, he’s one of the best forwards in the world. Southgate clearly likes him, and that’s all that matters.
Jadon Sancho: Despite a rough start to the season, Southgate and all the England fans know his qualities, he’ll make the squad, but his place in the starting XI might not be as nailed on as it was 6 months ago.
Marcus Rashford: He’ll have to compete hard with the aforementioned two for a spot in the starting XI but it’s hard to see him missing out on the squad altogether, he’s got bundles of quality and even at 23 years old, he has plenty of international experience.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: Like Sancho, Liverpool’s right-back hasn’t had his most memorable start to a season but that won’t overshadow his back to back world class seasons, he’ll make the squad and probably start.
Kyle Walker: His consistency, experience and versatility make him a no-brainer for Southgate despite his evident preference of younger players. If Trent takes the spot at right-back, it would be an obvious choice to have Walker at right centre-back in a back five.
Harry Maguire: Like Sterling, he might split opinion among fans but Southgate clearly loves him. He’s been inconsistent since arriving at Manchester United but the quality is still there. I’d be surprised if Southgate didn’t start him.
Jack Grealish: It may have taken some time for Southgate to fully appreciate what he had in Aston Villa’s skipper, but he seems to have realised now. He’s lit the Premier League alight this season and is an absolute joy to watch, it would be criminal to not see him in the squad this summer and given his form, he should have a spot in the starting XI in my eyes.
The three keepers seem fairly obvious, but who will start for England is anyone’s guess. While Jordan Pickford may have had the starting spot on lock for a few years now, his form at club-level is very questionable. Southgate clearly admires his ability with the ball at his feet but can he afford to overlook the shot-stopping brilliance of Nick Pope when it comes to the #1 shirt? Dean Henderson is pretty nailed on to be included in the squad, but with limited playing time at Manchester United, he’s unlikely to challenge for the starting spot. However, given Southampton’s recent resurgence and their strong defensive record, Alex McCarthy may come into the question. Although at 31-years-old, you’d assume Southgate would prefer to give the experience of going to an international tournament to the younger option in Henderson.
The Fairly Secure Inclusions
These group of players are very likely to be included in the squad but they will have to ensure their form over the next 6 months leading up to the tournament is kept at a high standard.
John Stones: A few months ago he might’ve been out of the picture given injury and form issues, but his recent resurgence after forming a strong partnership with Ruben Dias at Manchester City has him in with a strong shout for inclusion, and possibly a starting spot. He was a consistent starter at the World Cup and given his experience and suitability to Southgate’s play style, you’d expect him to be included provided he keeps fit and sustains this form.
Ben Chilwell: Since arriving from Leicester, Chelsea’s new left-back has gone from strength to strength. Despite recent injury problems, he’s formed a key part of Chelsea’s impressive backline and given the lack of obvious choices at left-back, he’s almost certain to make it in based purely on the position he plays, never-mind his excellent form.
Eric Dier: Jose Mourinho’s admiration of Dier has not gone unnoticed. He’s struggled in the past finding his best position but he looks very comfortable alongside Toby Alderweireld at the heart of Tottenham’s defence. Personally, I think if anyone is to displace Harry Maguire in the starting XI, it would be him, but the pair may actually end up alongside each other.
Declan Rice: Much is made of the supposed “big-six bias” when England squads are announced, but West Ham’s Declan Rice has shown that when you perform to the right standard, you do get noticed. He’s now a frequent inclusion in the international squad and will battle hard for a spot in the starting XI, let alone the entire squad.
Mason Mount: Southgate’s supposed “favouritism” of Chelsea’s young midfielder shouldn’t really come as a surprise. He’s a manager’s dream; hard-working, energetic and has loads of time to develop. He probably isn’t ready to start for England at a major tournament yet, but with a nailed on spot in Chelsea’s lineup and Southgate’s admiration of him, it wouldn’t come as a shock for many if he does work his way into the XI.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: As much as Tottenham have cried out for a backup to Harry Kane, England have too, but they may have found it in Everton’s leading goalscorer. His 11 Premier League goals this season is 8 more than his club’s next highest scorer and over 40% of his team’s goals. However, a recent dip in form will need to be put to an end soon. The likes of Danny Ings, Tammy Abraham and Callum Wilson will all want his spot in the squad, and they’ll fight hard for it.
The Hopeful Bunch
This group of players will have to fight hard for their spot and will face strong competition but having selected 18 already, these are the players I believe will make up the remaining 5 spots in England’s squad for the summer.
Reece James: Frank Lampard made a bold decision when deciding to drop club captain, Azpilicueta for 21-year-old Reece James but it has certainly paid off. He’s been very impressive this season, just like Chilwell, but unlike his full-back counterpart, Reece James faces much stronger competition at right-back. With Walker and Alexander-Arnold already nailed on for inclusion, it will likely come down to the system Southgate chooses. If he opts for three at the back with Walker as a centre-back, he will likely need an extra right-back to cover for Trent, but if he goes for a back four, then I have bad news for Reece James. His inclusion may ride on the FA’s opinion and even eligibility to select Kieran Trippier following his 10-week suspended ban.
Michael Keane: The Stockport-born Everton central defender will likely fend off competition from Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady to claim his place in the squad. The problem for Keane is the versatility of those already listed in the squad. Kyle Walker, Declan Rice and even Jordan Henderson can play out of position at centre-back and with John Stones, Eric Dier and Harry Maguire already included, there isn’t necessarily a desperate need for Keane to be included. That being said, Southgate appears to be a big fan of him and given his inclusion in recent England squads, the extra central back position in a back five, and his strong form at Everton, I think he will make the 23, just.
Bukayo Saka: The position he would play in this England team is almost as uncertain as his actual inclusion in the squad altogether. The 19-year-old has been sublime for Arsenal this season, and in the face of adversity, he has been the shining light in a poor Arsenal side. He’s been deployed at left-back, wing-back, central midfield and most recently on the right in attack, which will only help his case for inclusion. We already know how much Southgate likes youth players, and we also know how badly he needs left-sided defenders. His speed, energy and technical quality mean he’s certainly good enough to play at this level, but will he make the cut?
Kalvin Phillips: Since Bielsa’s arrival at Leeds United, Phillips has been his key-man. Since promotion to the Premier League, Southgate’s eyes have been opened to his ability and having displayed his ability to perform at this level, Southgate will probably want to include him in the squad. But wanting to include him and needing to include him are definitely different. Southgate already has plenty of midfield options waiting to be included; James Maddison, James Ward-Prowse, Phil Foden, Dele Alli, Harry Winks, and so many more. The depth in that position is remarkable. In truth, I think it comes down to a choice between him and Ward-Prowse for that position, but given England’s attacking firepower, I expect Southgate to opt for the more defensive option, and give Phillips the nod.
Phil Foden: The last inclusion comes from that incredible group of midfielders I just mentioned, and although Pep Guardiola hasn’t given him the play time he’s probably wanted recently, everyone is still aware of the outstanding quality that Phil Foden possesses. He is not only versatile enough to play centrally and on the wings, but despite his young age, he plays with the maturity and confidence that you expect of an established England international. He’s one of the most promising talents in world football and while he has strong competition from experienced players in his position, once again, I expect Southgate to want to give the experience to the younger option.
The Unlucky Few
There are so many incredible talents that will miss out on the phone call that they’re anxiously waiting for but for many of them, their time will come. For some, like Joe Gomez, it’s a race against time but his nasty knee injury will likely and excruciatingly rule him out of yet another major tournament. Danny Ings, Callum Wilson and Tammy Abraham are also very unfortunate if they’re to miss out, they’re all extremely talented but unfortunately, they’re competing against one of, if not the best striker in world football. The likes of Jude Bellingham, Harvey Barnes, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Greenwood all definitely have a future in this squad, but given the established quality, this tournament will likely come too soon. Some notable other inclusions that are worthy of mention are: Tyrone Mings, Conor Coady, Kieran Trippier, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, James-Ward-Prowse, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. There are too many to name them all.
The Squad, in-full:
Here is the full-squad I expect Southgate to name, although I’m sure I haven’t got them all right given how much can change in the months between now and June:
Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Dean Henderson
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Reece James, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Michael Keane, Eric Dier, Ben Chilwell
Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka
Harry Kane, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho
Let us know what you think of this selection and comment below or tweet us @AllOutFootball_ with any changes that you’d make to the squad.