England travel to San Marino on Monday night in need of just one point to confirm their place as group winners and therefore seal qualification for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
A 5-0 win over Albania on Friday all but secured their place in next winter’s tournament, with Harry Kane grabbing a hat-trick to go with Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson’s goals in the first half for a dominant win.
But for Monday’s game Gareth Southgate will be forced to make changes. Luke Shaw and Mason Mount have been ruled out with injuries, while Jordan Henderson, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling have all been released from duty early.
Crystal Palace midfielder Conor Gallagher has been called up from the Under-21’s as extra cover, but will he go straight into the starting lineup for the game? Here is the team I think should start.
Jordan Pickford is still the number one for England and Southgate, but with Ramsdale’s current form he deserves a start in a game like this where he’s unlikely to be tested much, if at all.
Trent Alexander Arnold
The Liverpool man has been in excellent form for his club side this season but he was a substitute in the game against Albania on Friday where both Reece James and Kyle Walker started. He’ll get the nod and likely chip in with a goal contribution too.
Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings
Southgate has tended to rotate his centre-backs for these games against the more lowly opposition and it doesn’t get more lowly than San Marino, so expect both Coady and Mings to get the nod in this one.
England’s only fit left-back in the squad following Shaw’s withdrawal with concussion, Chilwell is sure to start once again. His good performances in attack will surely lead to chances
Bellingham has been a regular starter for Dortmund and despite only being 18 is one of the most talented footballers in the entire squad. Great in possession, physically imposing and technically astute he’ll have an absolute field day in this game and should start.
Southgate seems likely to stick with Phillips for this game following the withdrawals of James Ward-Prowse, Henderson and Declan Rice since the announcement of the squad. With Gallagher getting a late call up, he’ll likely start on the bench meaning Phillips starts again.
Saka has shone in an England shirt for the most part of his international career, so selection here will likely see him continue that. With Sterling leaving the squad early, Saka should get the nod and will probably get a goal or assist (or both) in a big win.
Emile Smith Rowe
The first time call-up, Smith Rowe made his debut as a substitute against Albania and should now get a start with Jack Grealish unavailable for the game after returning to Man City. His ability to dribble in tight spaces will help create chances, and in his current form he could well get his first goal for England.
The key to the future for England, Foden is essential in any success the team will have and he’ll start here and be the main man when it comes to creating chances.
The likelihood is Tammy Abraham will start this game, but captain Kane should be given the chance to add to his tally for the year. Kane has 12 goals for England in 2021 and broke Wayne Rooney’s record of 37 competitive goals against Albania. He’s only ten goals away from overtaking him on the overall table as England’s highest goalscorer ever, and he can make up some ground in this game even if only given 60 minutes or so.
James Ward-Prowse put his point across to England manager Gareth Southgate during the final warm-up game for Euro 2020 as England beat Romania 1-0 at the Riverside Stadium.
The Southampton man started in central midfield in a heavily changed England line-up as they prepare for their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia next Sunday and put in a great performance alongside Kalvin Phillips and then Jordan Henderson until he was replaced on 75 minutes.
It certainly did him no harm in his chances of replacing Trent Alexander-Arnold in the final England squad for the tournament, after the England man picked up a thigh injury that ruled him out of contention after initially being picked.
With Mason Greenwood ruled out through injury too and only three goalkeepers allowed to be named it means Southgate has five options to replace Trent.
But with Ollie Watkins as a striker, it seems unlikely that he would be involved in any scenario that Southgate could think up. Then you have Ben Godfrey, who can play as both a centre-back or right-back as he did against Romania. But with three right-back options already in the squad and four natural centre-backs plus Walker, Shaw and James able to cover in a back three he doesn’t seem too needed there.
Ben White is another option, with the same capabilities as Godfrey but also an ability to play in defensive midfield too which could appeal to the manager with Jordan Henderson’s fitness worries. But it would seem a bit silly from Southgate to opt for White because of his ability to play in midfield when you have midfielders readily available.
That leaves Ward-Prowse and Lingard to battle out for the spot and the Saints skipper should be the man to get the nod for me.
While Lingard has had an excellent half-season with West Ham United, he is far more offensive minded and occupies a more advanced position in the team. Those attacking midfield positions are unaffected by Trent’s withdrawal with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount all still in the conversation for a place in the team.
That means Ward-Prowse is the most logical choice in terms of squad balance, but he’s also the best option.
Trent’s biggest weapon is his crossing and set-piece delivery, something that Ward-Prowse also possesses. Add to that the fact he is a natural central midfielder, has played in the England setup under Southgate for a lot of this season and offers something different to the other midfielders in the team.
He has a wicked set-piece delivery and if England start chasing a game that becomes an option, much like it would’ve done had Trent been available on the bench. He’s a familiar face with great energy and talent and fits the balance perfectly.
Southgate’s choice is relatively easy to make, but it turns out he doesn’t agree. The England manager confirmed on Monday morning that it would in fact be Ben White would replace Alexander-Arnold in the squad, after he impressed in defensive midfield and centre-back during the two friendlies and training.
My first thoughts on that are that while that may be true, the fact that Harry Maguire is a huge doubt for the opening games has surely played a part in his decision making process here. Without Maguire they’re short of options that can play in a back-four and White’s versatility helps in that regard, as well as his familiarity with a three-at-the-back system with Brighton.
Ward-Prowse should count himself mightily unlucky not to be involved, but he would’ve been mine and many others’ pick too and deserves to be in the squad.
Today is the day that Gareth Southgate makes half the nation absolutely ecstatic and the other half furious as he names his England squad for this summer’s European Championships.
UEFA agreed to allow an extra three places in the squad for managers to add following a full campaign of a hectic schedule owing to the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 18 months or so.
That should make it a little bit easier to select a squad but there will still be some big names who miss out. While Southgate will name a provisional squad today, I wanted to see just how difficult it is to do and how different people will react, so this is my 26-man England squad for Euro 2020.
Jordan Pickford: The Everton stopper’s place as number one for the national team had come under doubt this season but Southgate has stuck by him for the most part and he will 100% be in the squad.
Dean Henderson: He’s always had great ability and has come through the youth ranks with England. Now as Manchester United’s number one, he has earned his place in the senior England team too.
Sam Johnstone: The third spot was sure to be Nick Pope’s, but the Burnley keeper needs knee surgery and is almost certain to be ruled out of the tournament. That means West Brom keeper Johnstone will get the chance to be part of the squad as the third choice.
Kyle Walker: Quite comfortably the best performing English right-back this season, Walker won the Premier League and is in the Champions League with Manchester City and deserves his spot. He also offers some flexibility if needed, having played as a centre-back at the 2018 World Cup too.
Reece James: A young right-back, James’ season started impeccably and while he didn’t keep that level throughout the season he wasn’t bad. Good going forward and excellent in a one-on-one situation with a great delivery, he deserves a chance.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: The fact his spot in the squad is so in question is bonkers to me. He had a really tough first half of the season and was rightly left out of the last England squad, but since then he has been back to his brilliant best. He’s improved defensively and has an X-factor when going forward that should make him a shoe-in.
Ben Chilwell: Southgate’s first choice left-back for the most part has had a good debut campaign with Chelsea this season and could top it off by winning the Champions League. He’s decent at both ends of the pitch and this is one of the positions where the choices are pretty clear.
Luke Shaw: Quite comfortably the best left-back in the country this season, Shaw has seen an incredible resurgence in his career this season. He’s been fantastic going forward, with a career high of assists this season but also solid defensively and can even fill in as a third centre-back in a back three too so he’s in.
Harry Maguire: England’s best centre-back and a leader at the back, he’s had a very good season for Manchester United. Aerially he is dominant and while he has got a lack of pace, he knows how to play without it for the most part and shines for Southgate so will start so long as he recovers from his ankle injury.
John Stones:Another player who has seen a huge resurgence in their career this season, Man City have a lot to thank Stones for. While Ruben Dias picked up much of the plaudits (and rightly so), Stones shone next to him and his passing ability from the back should see him as a starter alongside Maguire with fitness permitting.
Ezri Konsa: While I don’t expect him to go, Konsa is more than deserving of a spot in the squad after the season he has had. Alongside Tyrone Mings, he has shown a fantastic ability in all aspects of defending as well as playing out from the back and in my eyes has outshone his centre-back partner. He has great pace to cover round and is good on the ball to build from the back too, meaning he’d fit into the squad brilliantly.
Fikayo Tomori: For sure a wildcard pick, but Tomori’s form since his January loan move to AC Milan can’t be ignored. He was brilliant in Serie A and the Europa League and caught the eye of everyone who paid any sort of attention. That means if Southgate was doing his job properly he’d have spotted him too, and he deserves an inclusion based on form and ability over Wolves captain Conor Coady.
Jordan Henderson: Arguably the biggest character in the camp, Henderson is an automatic pick if he’s fit. Great energy, leadership, solid defensively and a decent passing range too, he starts never mind gets included in the squad.
Declan Rice: Potentially the most important piece of the jigsaw in Southgate’s midfield, the West Ham man’s defensive qualities are something that only he brings to the squad. A fantastic tackler with great awareness, he will be key if England get into the latter stages to take on the better teams.
Jude Bellingham: Not many people will have had him down as getting into this squad at the start of the season, but the 17-year-old has been sensational for Borussia Dortmund and earned himself senior minutes earlier in this campaign. He has the ability to fulfil every midfield role and that fearlessness he brings to his game could be huge.
Kalvin Phillips: A fantastic ball playing defensive midfielder, Phillips has been a big part of Southgate’s plans in squads over the last year and he deserves his place in the side as the insurance policy in the centre.
Mason Mount: A real breakthrough campaign this season for Mount, who made himself indispensable for Chelsea and forced his way into the England setup too. Whether it be deeper or slightly more advanced, Mount is almost certain to start and will be included.
Bukayo Saka: The Arsenal man was one of very few bright sparks in a shocking season for the Gunners and his versatility could be absolutely vital for the squad. Able to play as a full-back, wing-back, winger or even central midfielder, he should find that gets him into the squad above anything else.
Jack Grealish: One of the stand-out performers in the Premier League this season prior to his shin injury, Grealish more than deserves his place in the squad. Brilliant ball retention and manipulation, as well as a ball carrier, eye for a pass and top performances for Villa, he has to be in.
Jadon Sancho: Strangely enough there are squads that don’t have Sancho involved and that just makes zero sense to me. A dazzling winger with pace, agility, a brilliant change of direction, goals and assists, he’s performed brilliantly for Dortmund after a slow start and deserves his spot.
Raheem Sterling: After Harry Kane, Sterling is probably the first attacker on the squad list for Southgate and he’s one of them for me too. While his season for Man City was somewhat underwhelming in comparison to previous campaigns, he has goals, assists and brilliant wing play and can play on either side. His quality is high and he’s a must-pick.
Marcus Rashford: The best season of his club career was slowed somewhat by injuries towards the end, but 20+ goals and 15+ assists in all competitions make him a sure-fire pick. He has that X-factor in one on one situations, has brilliant pace and skill, can play across the entire front three and is a good impact sub if he doesn’t start too.
Harry Kane: Well, duh. England’s best player by a distance, Kane is in the squad and I reckon he’ll play every minute of the tournament too.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Since Kane will likely play in every game and play most minutes, the secondary striker role is one that likely won’t be used much. Despite that, you need someone who is a presence on the pitch if they are needed and can score a variety of different goals, so the Everton man is the best pick.
Mason Greenwood: A wildcard pick again, but it’s rare that as a manager you have so much quality to choose from and have to leave someone out. But Greenwood’s quality with both feet, whether through the middle or out wide means he absolutely has to be in. There’s nobody I’d rather a chance fell to when I needed a goal outside of Kane and that’s enough to sway me.
It’s a debate that has been roaring on for months and months now, but Trent Alexander-Arnold is a pretty good footballer if you weren’t already aware.
The Premier League and Champions League winning right-back has come under severe criticism this season for some below-par displays as Liverpool struggled to defend their crown, and was recently left out of the England squad ahead of Euro 2020.
But the 22-year-old roared back at his critics this past weekend with a late winner against Aston Villa to snap a six-game losing streak at Anfield.
It was a performance that saw Trent get back to what he does best, with good passing and ball striking technique. He also had more touches than any other player on the pitch, while also completing the most tackles of any Liverpool player.
The winning goal showed the brilliance he can bring in the final third that many other of England’s options at the back don’t have, with a superb strike. Alexander-Arnold found himself on the left hand side and as the ball broke loose to him, he cut inside and unleashed a wonderful curling strike into the corner to beat Emiliano Martinez and seal all three points.
It was a reminder to many of the ability he possesses, but in the prior game against Real Madrid it was a reminder of what he still needs to work on.
The Spanish giants targeted Alexander-Arnold, building up their play on the right wing before a quick switch of play through Luka Modric and Toni Kroos to Vinicius Jr who would have him isolated.
It worked a treat as the Brazilian youngster scored twice on the night, while a failed attempt led to Alexander-Arnold’s attempted header back to the goalkeeper falling short and Marco Asensio lifting the ball over Alisson to score himself.
When watching both games, it makes it very obvious what Alexander-Arnold is right now. He’s a great young talent who still needs his game to develop to reach the pinnacle of what he could become. Sounds like a standard 22-year-old.
The issue he has is that he’s already been at the top of the game. He was a key part of Liverpool’s success over the last three seasons as they reached consecutive Champions League finals, then had a record-breaking Premier League season in which they failed to lift the title. But he was also instrumental in the Champions League title they won but also the record-breaking season they had in which they won the league title.
Most of those contributions came in the offensive third though, with assists and goals rather than actual defensive actions. Yes, Liverpool had a great defensive record with him as part of the defence, but they keep the ball for the majority of their games.
When he is tasked with actually defending against tricky wingers, it’s not a surprise that the opposition target him just like Real Madrid did.
He is however, an exceptional talent. There isn’t an England full-back as good as him on the ball and in games where they will look to dominate the ball, he is the best option. When it comes to the big teams where they won’t have the ball as much and will need to deal with a palpable threat out wide, they have better.
It’s evident that his form hadn’t been great recently and leaving him out of the most recent squad wasn’t the worst decision in the world. But going forward, especially at Euro 2020, Alexander-Arnold should absolutely be on the plane.
A squad is about covering all scenarios you could potentially come up against and with Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker they have those scenarios covered. Leaving him out of the squad entirely would just reek of an excuse for failure in the tournament, with a built-in reason for people to blame if the side inevitably failed to break a team down. But they have got so many options that Southgate has to consider them all.
Alexander-Arnold is already one of the best right-backs in the world because of what he offers going forward – which is just as important for a top team in this day and age as what they offer defensively.
However, lets just relax with comparisons to all-time greats or putting him in all-time lineups. He’s great but still developing and there is nothing wrong with that.
Over the past three years we’ve witnessed the best Liverpool team in generations. They accumulated 197 points in two seasons whilst picking up four trophies, including a Premier League title, Champions League title and a FIFA Club World Cup, the first in the club’s history.
There is no doubt that this squad of players have excelled all over the pitch, but would it be possible to build the perfect player by trying to merge attributes from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool players, with the only rule being you can’t use a player more than once? Lets give it a try…
Whilst firmly cementing himself at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield during the 18/19 campaign, Fabinho dominated in holding midfield sweeping up after those in front him. Virgil van Dijk once described him as Inspector Gadget because, “his legs are everywhere.” His ability to read the game is second to none, proven by his emphatic performances at centre back for the champions so far this season in the absence of van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, not to mention his appearances at right-back for the Brazilian national team as well. Definitely an underrated element of Liverpool’s recent success.
Heading Ability Virgil van Dijk
It was pretty hard to think of anyone else for this attribute. Virgil is almost the most perfect player himself and so could fill a lot of these attributes to come on his own. He adds a calmness in your own box when dealing with set pieces and adds a threat in the opposition’s.
This was most clear in his Liverpool debut in the Merseyside derby, where he added a sense of security to the back line and went on to score the winner at the Kop end. His leap, strength and dominance in the air will be perfect for our perfect player.
Physique James Milner
When you’re 35-years-old and still winning the long-distance runs within the squad, it’s made the decision easy. I’ve gone with James Milner. A model professional, always working hard to keep his physical condition in tip-top shape to still compete at this level.
To maintain the career he has from 16 years-old to now is something quite impressive and this may not have been the most obvious shout for this attribute but if our perfect player can stay at the peak of his physicality for 19 years (and counting) then there’s no doubt he’ll dominate the game.
Hands Alisson Becker
Well it’s fair to say there wasn’t much competition for this attribute, but nevertheless since joining the reds in the summer of 2018, Alisson has earned the status of one of the best goalkeepers with his hands but also his feet. An all-round solid goalkeeper who has come in clutch for Liverpool in so many key moments.
The “Goleiro Gato”, one of my personal highlights was when he collected more golden gloves than he had hands at the end of the Premier League and Champions League in 2019 and then with Brazil at the Copa America that same summer.
Tackling Roberto Firmino
Having already awarded Fabinho with the “brain” attribute it was quite tough to think of who could fill this slot, and naturally of course I went straight to the remaining centre backs. But after a quick search I was surprised to find that Firmino had completed more tackles (275) than all of Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and even Virgil van Dijk in the Premier League.
One of the hardest working forwards in Europe, this attribute will be essential for my player, winning the ball back high up the pitch and in potentially dangerous areas.
Agility Sadio Mane
He can turn left, he can turn right, the fact of the matter is you never know! And neither do defenders, making him incredibly dangerous in the final third especially when bringing the ball into the box. Mane’s balance and agility will be key for our perfect player.
Finishing Mohamed Salah
Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t. With two golden boots in 3 seasons and the record for amount of goals scored in a single Premier League season, there’s only one man this attribute can be awarded to.
With him recently also becoming Liverpool’s all-time top goalscorer in the Champions League, there’s no doubt in my mind that Salah is one of the best finishers in Liverpool’s history and this attribute will make our perfect player a match winner.
Passing Thiago Alcantara
A new addition to the squad but a star nonetheless. A diamond in midfield who shared the pitch with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso – and it shows! A truly blessed footballer who dictates the game from the middle of the park.
Speed Joe Gomez
Having already allocated Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to different attributes I can’t also give them speed, so having said that I’ve gone with Joe Gomez. Gomez of course doesn’t venture forward in the same way the attackers do, in fact he’s never actually scored a goal, but going the other way he is rapid.
His recovery speed is ridiculous, and many players include him in the conversation when they’re asked who would win in a race. If you try to imagine his running ability going forward maybe it can be appreciated more, but I’m saying our perfect player has Joe Gomez’s speed!
Dribbling Naby Keita
Maybe it goes quite under the radar just how press resistant Naby Keita actually is but when he’s on, he’s ON! One of the better ball carriers in Liverpool’s midfield and is great at breaking into the danger areas through the middle as an alternative to crossing into the box from the fullbacks. Our perfect player will have his dribbling, but definitely not his fitness problems!
Leadership Jordan Henderson
Filling the shoes of Steven Gerrard was never going to be an easy task for Jordan Henderson and it’s no secret that at times he’s struggled, but the turnaround to captain a side to winning the Champions League, after losing in the final the year before, and then winning the league, in an unprecedented way again after losing it the year before despite accumulating 97 points, only shows the signs of a phenomenal leader.
His teammates can’t speak highly enough of him and I always go back to the Champions League campaign of 2017/18, where Liverpool were in no way expected to reach the final but they did. A big part of that journey was down to Henderson. Particularly the home legs in the quarter-final and semi-final, Henderson never stopped running, set the intensity and led the press. A world class leader on and off the pitch.
Crossing Andrew Robertson
It’s well known how crucial Liverpool’s flying fullbacks and their assists have been to their success, reaching the pinnacle of English and European football. I have given crossing to Robertson, but obviously, him and Trent have equally been a threat going forward. Robertson once shared that he looks for the “gap between the defenders and the goalkeeper,” knowing how tough that is to defend against himself.
His vision, paired with his technique but also his relentlessness to always being in a good position to whip the ball in, is what makes him the perfect crosser for our perfect player.
Right foot Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold had to be in this list and I was happy to compromise and award Trent with the attribute of right foot. Trent is more than just a crosser. His passing ability in general is that of kid who grew up idolising midfielders like Gerrard and Alonso and being a midfielder himself all throughout youth football, his technical passing ability is superb. Scoring free-kicks on his right and striking a ball is not too difficult for him either so for that reason I’m giving our perfect player Trent’s right foot.
Left foot Xherdan Shaqiri
Maybe quite a surprise shout given the high-profile status of a certain Egyptian’s left peg, but my word on his day does Shaqiri have a wonder of a left foot. With a collection of sensational strikes from long range throughout his career, Shaqiri’s left foot is no joke and he is technically one of the most gifted player at the club. With the whip and power he can generate our perfect player is going to be lethal.
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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.
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.
As England continue to look towards the future, one position in particular continues to produce elite talent no matter the club.
The nation have currently got top quality options out wide in attack, with the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford backed up by Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Greenwood and Bukayo Saka. After having problems for years with their full-backs, they now have a plethora of talent in the right-back position too.
Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the current occupiers of the shirt in the senior national team. But with Walker now 30 and Trippier turning 30 this week, England are likely to look to the future sooner rather than later. Alexander-Arnold looks set to be given the opportunity to make the shirt his own, and rightly so considering his performances for Liverpool. But there are several others out there currently putting their name in the mix.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been one of the best defenders in the league over the last two campaigns and being the first choice right-back at Manchester United will certainly be doing him no harm. At 22 years old, the former Crystal Palace man has seemingly mastered the defensive side of the game but going forward he lacks quality. As an ex-attacker that may come as a surprise, but his gangly frame sees him struggle to dribble and beat men on the ball and then his technical ability is in question with the ball at his feet. He is however quite comfortably the best pure defender England have.
Another option for Gareth Southgate is Chelsea’s Reece James. At 20 years old and younger than Alexander-Arnold, he will be licking his lips at the battle. After going out on loan for Wigan where he often found himself playing in midfield, James is somewhere in the middle of Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka in terms of attributes. He’s very comfortable on the ball and good in both directions off it. He’s not quite as good going forward as Trent Alexander-Arnold and not quite as good defensively as Wan-Bissaka, but he’s better than both in the opposite aspect of the game which puts him right in the mix.
A wildcard option is Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey. After coming through the Chelsea academy, Lamptey found himself behind James in the pecking order under Frank Lampard. He made his Chelsea debut as a substitute against Arsenal and put in a stellar performance but then made the decision in January to pursue regular first team football at the Amex Stadium. Since signing, he has been a regular at right wing-back and performed impeccably well. At 19 years old, he has plenty of room for improvement and the fact he’s playing in a different formation will help him. Southgate has shown a willingness to use wing-backs on occasion and that could provide an advantage for Lamptey with the others not experienced in the role. With quality on the ball, ability to beat a man, pace, defensive ability in one-on-one situations and good reading of the game, he has all the tools to be a huge success.
England’s future is bright in the wide positions in attack and they’re now developing insane, elite talents defensively too. Now it’s time to turn their attentions to central midfield.
As the craziest Premier League season of all-time ends, all eyes go immediately towards the new season. People begin to talk about new transfers, new clubs, new managers and predictions for the new campaign.
Before I start doing that though, I want to give my thoughts on the best XI in the Premier League last season.
GOALKEEPER Dean Henderson
A phenomenal debut season in the league has seen the Manchester United loanee break into the England squad and now be spoken about as a potential starter at Old Trafford next season ahead of David De Gea. With 13 clean sheets in 36 games, Henderson helped push Sheffield United towards a European place and although they missed out in the end it was Henderson’s performances that stood out more than others.
Honourable mentions: Allison Becker, Nick Pope, Ederson.
RIGHT BACK Trent Alexander-Arnold
Self explanatory pick this one to be honest. Trent has continued to excel as the best right-back in the league and is now among the best in the world. While he still learning and improving in a defensive aspect, going forward he is one of the best there is and that helped propel Liverpool to a record breaking run that saw them lift their first Premier League title. With 13 assists in the league, he broke his own record for assists by a defender and had more than anyone else bar Kevin De Bruyne. A truly remarkable season by a truly remarkable player, he’s my pick for young player of the season.
Honourable mentions: Ricardo Pereira, Matt Doherty, Aaron Wan-Bissaka
CENTRE BACKS Virgil Van Dijk & Joe Gomez
A pairing in real life and a pairing in my team of the year, Liverpool dominate the defensive side of this team. Van Dijk has continued to show the world that he is the best in the world in his position right now, while Gomez has shown why Jurgen Klopp has so much faith in him. Gomez is undoubtedly better when he has Van Dijk alongside him but on his own, he has shown good reading of the game and positioning while also becoming more vocal as the season progressed. Together they have the perfect blend of strength, speed, aerial dominance and ability on the ball to keep any attack quiet and they are a huge reason as to why Liverpool had the best defensive record in the league this season.
It’s a full house for the Liverpool back-four as Robertson completes the defence. The Scotland captain is often outshone by teammate Alexander-Arnold as a creative full-back, but he himself managed to get 12 assists this season. His surging runs on the overlap are a big reason why Sadio Mane is so successful at cutting inside in this team and while his form certainly dropped off post-lockdown, the position Liverpool were in was clearly a big reason as to why so I won’t hold it against him. He’s among the best full-backs in the world currently and will continue to perform at a high level under Klopp’s rock ‘n’ roll football style.
Honourable mentions: Enda Stevens, Jonny
CENTRE MIDFIELD Kevin De Bruyne & Mateo Kovacic
I want to have some form of balance to this side and this is the best performing duo that gives me that. Mateo Kovacic was arguably Chelsea’s best player this season, really coming into his own as a lynchpin in Frank Lampard’s midfield. His fantastic dribbling and passing means he can break lines in multiple ways but he was also excellent defensively. Kevin De Bruyne’s inclusion is self-explanatory. 13 goals and 20 assists from central midfield is a stunning return and he has cemented himself as the best player in the league for me. His creativity, pace, power and ball striking is at a world class level and he would be an asset to any team in world football. He’s impossible to leave out and in his current form Man City will be looking to him to lead their charge to potentially lift the UEFA Champions League.
Honourable mentions: Joao Moutinho, Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice
RIGHT WING Mohammed Salah
Another stellar season in which Mo Salah dominated attacking charts and records for Liverpool. Just one goal away from a third consecutive 20+ goal season and he also hit double figures for assists this season. His electric pace, superb movement from the wing and ability to hold the ball up with his back to goal despite his smaller frame are all at a world class level. Regardless of aesthetics, Salah is among the best players in the world and without him Liverpool’s attack would drop a level.
Honourable mentions: Riyad Mahrez, Adama Traore
LEFT WING Sadio Mane
Much like Salah, Mane is continuing to perform at a world class level in the Premier League. Another season where the Senegal international has notched double figures in goals and was also instrumental in creating. Mane’s goals won more points in this season’s Premier League than anyone else (21). His movement, touch and ability to beat a player one on one is among the greats in the game today and you’ll be hard fought to find a better left-winger for Klopp’s system. His willingness to defend too is a credit to his professionalism and makes him impossible to leave out. He was my contender for Player of the Year along with Kevin De Bruyne, although KDB pipped him towards the end in my opinion.
Honourable mentions: Marcus Rashford, Christian Pulisic
NUMBER 10 Raheem Sterling
Now Sterling’s inclusion will be controversial because he doesn’t play as a No.10 but there was no way I could leave him out. 20 goals in the league with no penalties is a personal best for the England man and his performances are a key reason as to why Man City fans didn’t panic when Sergio Aguero got injured and ruled out for the remainder of the Premier League season. He has mastered the run from outside to in for a back post tap-in but also has the ability to beat players one-on-one, play intricate passes between the lines and link-up with teammates in tight spaces. A truly top class player, Raheem Sterling was a player I simply couldn’t leave out of the side despite the qualities of rivals for this position.
Honourable mentions: Jack Grealish, Bruno Fernandes
STRIKER Danny Ings
Another slightly controversial pick but Ings deserves recognition in my opinion. While Vardy won the golden boot, he went on a big barren run without a goal and it was ultimately his run of scoring in 9 games in a row earlier in the campaign that got him there. Ings was a consistent goal threat for Southampton this season, has stayed fit and is the reason they were able to turn their season around and end up finishing comfortably in mid-table. 22 league goals in a side that doesn’t create a lot of chances and were fighting for their lives is a mightily impressive return following his injury problems in recent years. His movement, link-up play and finishing with both feet was evident for all to see all season long and he deserves a place in the team of the season mainly due to his, lack of, supporting cast in comparison to his rivals.
Honourable mentions: Jamie Vardy, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Anthony Martial
Do you agree with my team of the year? What would you change? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter at @TapInsTapOuts.
In a season where the Premier League has seen the rise of some of the best young talent in recent memory, the PFA have revealed the nominees for this years Young Player of the Year award.
The award is given to players who are aged 23 or under at the start of the season, meaning players who turn 24 during the campaign are still eligible.
According to reports, the nominations have been revealed and there are a few questionable inclusions.
Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Mount, James Maddison, Jack Grealish and Tammy Abraham are the names reportedly up for the award, with the Liverpool full-back the stand-out favourite.
Eyebrows have been raised over the exclusion of a few names, including Bukayo Saka, Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Adama Traore.
The Arsenal winger has arguably been their stand-out player this season, with double digit assists in all competitions during his first full season in the first-team. Anthony Martial has scored 17 Premier League goals, the same amount as Marcus Rashford in the same team, while Adama Traore has been a key figure in Wolves’ bid for Champions League football.
While the six nominated players have all had stellar campaigns too, it seems a bit too coincidental that all are English. Tammy Abraham certainly started the season brilliantly, but he fizzled out as the season progressed and has since seen himself displaced as the first choice striker at Chelsea by Olivier Giroud.
Jack Grealish, while he’s been good himself, is about to be relegated from the league and James Maddison has definitely suffered from ‘second-season syndrome’ this year. Despite Leicester’s good season, Maddison certainly hasn’t been among the better players in the side this year, with Harvey Barnes arguably a better option for this award than him.
In reality though, it doesn’t matter who’s up for this award as there is only one real candidate to win it. In a season where Liverpool dominated the opposition and won the league at a canter, Trent Alexander-Arnold has picked up 12 assists in the league, scored 3 goals and been the main creative hub in the side.
We’ve seen it all season long, but since the Premier League resumed last month there has been even more talk about the issues with VAR.
From the first game back, when Sheffield United had a goal not given despite the ball clearly crossing the line, there has been controversy after controversy across Europe with the new digital refereeing system.
As many will surely point out, it’s not VAR that’s the issue; it’s the officials in charge of VAR making the decisions.
We’ve seen a startling amount of inconsistency from officials, from red cards, to penalties to handballs.
Lets start with Eddie Nketiah. The young English forward came on as a substitute for Arsenal against Leicester and lasted just under 2 minutes before seeing red for a dangerous tackle. This decision itself isn’t the issue, it’s the decisions that follow it that cause problems. James Tarkowski went into a challenge against Jarrod Bowen with his studs showing and caught the winger on the thigh. The referee gave a yellow card. When Arsenal took on Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold made the exact same challenge as Nketiah. 50/50 that he missed and got the player with extreme force instead, albeit accidental. VAR reviewed that challenge and didn’t even give the England international a yellow card.
Another occasion of VAR completely contradicting itself includes the two Manchester teams. Manchester United traveled to Villa Park and secured a victory, in part thanks to a penalty earned by Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese midfielder dragged the ball away from Villa defender Kourtney Hause and turned his back to the defender. His momentum saw him step on the leg of the defender and in turn go down. VAR, after several minutes of checks, awarded the penalty. In Manchester City’s win over Bournemouth though, Gabriel Jesus ran through in the box and mid-stride accidentally stepped on defender Steve Cook’s leg and went down. Penalty given by the referee, but then VAR reared it’s ugly head and overruled the decision. Why? What’s the difference between the two incidents? Either they’re both penalties or they’re both not. How is it possible to come to the decision that they result in different outcomes?
While the referees are in charge, there will be errors. That’s part of football. The introduction of VAR was billed as the end of these errors with the use of technology. It hasn’t helped. Things like offside have improved, because despite whether people like the dotted lines or not – you’re either offside or you’re not. There’s no subjectivity to it. It’s a yes or no thing.
That’s how VAR needs to be used. Situations where it’s a yes or a no. Where there can be no debates. There’s no real difference right now between the errors referees were making before, except for the song and dance made about how VAR would cut errors out of the game.
If you want to use VAR though, the only option is to give the referee on the field full control. Let him use the screen by the side of the pitch to check any decisions he isn’t sure of instead of being told by someone else. You can have the person in the office at Stockley Park to make checks during the game as requested by the on-field referee. Other than that, just stay out of it.
As it stands, VAR is causing more problems than it’s solving and is proving to be a massive inconvenience to the teams involved in games. It’s a huge problem and the Premier League need to find a way to make it work better than it currently does before the new season begins.