Another international break is due to be upon us and Gareth Southgate has named his England squad for the upcoming games against Wales, Belgium and Denmark.
Harry Maguire has been recalled in defence following his withdrawal from the squad after being arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer in Greece last time around, while Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka receives his first call-up to the senior side listed as a defender.
Harvey Barnes and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both receive their first call-ups to Southgate’s side too, but Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden have been left out as punishment for breaking quarantining rules last time out in Iceland.
So with a 30 man squad named, what is the strongest XI that Southgate could put out? I’ve picked my team out of this crop of players and break down the strengths & weaknesses and how they’d cope against the better sides in the world.
GOALKEEPER – DEAN HENDERSON
It’s a tough call between Manchester United’s No.2 and Burnley’s No.1 for this spot but ultimately I’ve gone with who will undoubtedly be the better goalkeeper going forward. Jordan Pickford the current No.1 for Southgate but he constantly lets himself down with poor decisions and bad performances. Nick Pope would equally be deserving of the role having really become a very good goalkeeper over the last 18 months, but Henderson edges it. At 23 years old, Hendo has good feet, is vocal and has shown his reliability when it comes to shot-stopping on several occasions. He’d be my first choice goalkeeper.
RIGHT BACK – TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD
He picks himself. At just 21 years old, the Liverpool academy graduate has won everything there is to win at club level as a key component of Jurgen Klopp’s side. Defensively he has his frailties, but going forward he is truly a generational talent from full-back and has earned his spot. England’s depth at right-back is so crazy that the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Reece James and Tariq Lamptey haven’t made the squad this time around but I believe Trent is the better option ahead of those three, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier anyway at the moment and should be first choice.
LEFT BACK – BEN CHILWELL
Now I’m not the biggest fan of Chilwell as a player, but he’s comfortably England’s best left back right now. The Chelsea man is back to fitness and has played well for the Blues when called upon so far but will now look to push on to get back to the level of consistency he had at Leicester. His only real competition for the spot in this squad would be Bukayo Saka, who having not been in a squad before now and being a natural attacking midfielder, wouldn’t be the best option ahead of him as it stands. Another option could be Kieran Trippier who played there during the last international break, but as a natural right back Chilwell definitely gets the nod over him too.
CENTRE BACKS – JOE GOMEZ & TYRONE MINGS
Now this will be controversial since Harry Maguire is almost guaranteed a spot in the side by Southgate, but he doesn’t start for me. Joe Gomez and Tyrone Mings as a partnership has everything you’d want from a centre back pairing in modern football. Both are lightning quick, both are very comfortable on the ball, Mings is more vocal and dominant aerially while Gomez is used to sweeping up in behind and covering behind a more dominant centre-back. In all honesty there isn’t much difference in terms of ability between Mings, Maguire and Dier in defence but the two latter options are more likely to struggle if they’re put in a position where they become isolated in a one-on-one situation. With the way England look to set up the team, this pairing would allow a higher line and more attacking influence from midfield to get the best players even closer to goal.
CENTRE MIDFIELD – JORDAN HENDERSON & KALVIN PHILLIPS
Another controversial shout as the inexperienced Kalvin Phillips gets the nod for me over Declan Rice in the heart of the midfield alongside Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. Henderson is an automatic choice with his experience and strengths. Defensively he is very good. He covers ground well, has a good range of pass to his game and offers leadership and a winning mentality to a fairly young squad. Phillips gets in for me over Rice simply for his ability on the ball. Defensively, Rice is probably a bit better but England want to be a side that dominates possession and controls games. A central midfield pairing of Henderson and Rice doesn’t do that. Phillips’ passing range and ability on the ball mean England can control games better but they don’t lose balance because he is also a very good defensive midfielder. With more Premier League experience I’m sure it will become a more accepted choice but I’d make the step early and do it now.
RIGHT WINGER – JADON SANCHO
The hottest topic of the summer transfer window will join up with the England squad next week, but whether he’ll be a Borussia Dortmund or Manchester United player is still up in the air. What isn’t up for debate though is just how good he is on the wing. Dribbling, pace, skill, ability to go both ways, assists, goals and excellent decision making put Sancho among the best in the world in his position and the fact that he’s a starting international player at the age of 20 shows you just how talented he is. He must start.
LEFT WINGER – MARCUS RASHFORD
A breakthrough campaign as a regular starter for Manchester United saw Marcus Rashford notch the best season of his professional career so far. Since coming back from a serious back injury, he’s not been quite as explosive but has still provided goals and assists to show his quality. In a one-on-one situation out wide he often has the beating of the defender and his passing range has improved over the last 12 months. He links up well with fellow attackers in tight situations too and having played as a striker for much of his senior career too he knows where the back of the net is. Another one who must start.
NUMBER 10 – RAHEEM STERLING
The reason the other two wingers must start out wide is because Raheem Sterling should start through the middle. He is the complete modern forward and has the ability to go left, right or as the most advanced central player if necessary and that’s why he should play in this role. His late runs into the box will see him continue to score goals like he does at club level, while also allowing him to link with the other attackers more frequently. His ability to drive past players also means he wouldn’t mind coming deep to collect the ball if necessary and make things happen to open games up too. For me, he is England’s best player and must be put in a position to get the absolute best out of him.
STRIKER – HARRY KANE
The man. Harry Kane is on course to break all the goalscoring records in England, including Wayne Rooney’s 53 international goals. As the number 9 he has always shown how reliable he is in front of goal but has also shown that when he has willing runners in behind around him, he is capable of picking passes out too. As captain he is guaranteed to start anyway but he’s there on merit too as one of the best strikers in world football.
Central midfield continues to be a problem for England going forward but there are pieces of a really top quality side coming through here. There are options all over the pitch and Southgate has an abundance of talent to pick from against all different types of opposition.
Wins over Wales, Belgium and Denmark over the next international break will affirm Southgate’s ambitions of leading England to glory at the European Championships next summer but it’ll be more about the performances his side can put together that will tell you where they are in the running.