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Graham Ruthven: "There’s no doubting England boast one of the best squads in international football"


Graham Ruthven: "There’s no doubting England boast one of the best squads in international football"

The Three Lions enter the Euros as one of the favourites. Could it be England's year?

SOMETHING feels different about this major tournament for England, many peoples’ frontrunners for Euro 2020. Of course, homegrown hubris has raised expectations for World Cups and Euros before, but such arrogance often felt forced. Like a country was trying to convince itself that it could go all the way for the first since 1966 despite not having the quality on the pitch to do so.

Now, though, there’s no doubting England boast one of the best squads in international football. No forced arrogance will be required this summer. Gareth Southgate and his players are entitled to target the latter rounds of Euro 2020, especially having made the semi finals of the 2018 World Cup with a weaker team.

England aren’t accustomed to being in this sort of position. They are much more comfortable being a second tier nation at a major tournament, like they were three years ago in Russia. From this insecurity comes a sense that England will find a way to spurn their best shot at silverware since the 2006 World Cup.

To counter this, Southgate must be bold with his team selections to do justice to the talent he has at his disposal. Jude Bellingham, for instance, must feature heavily for England this summer. It doesn’t matter that he’s only 17 years old, he is the sort of complete midfielder the national team has lacked for the last decade or so. 

Tactically, Southgate must do more to impose his own game on opponents at this tournament having largely played on the counter at the 2018 World Cup. This will mean harnessing the likes of Phil Foden and Jack Grealish - ball carriers who can break open low defensive blocks. England must be proactive.

Too often in the past England managers have ignored form in favour of reputation. This is another thing Southgate mustn’t do, if only to get Mason Mount into his side. The Chelsea midfielder, who finished the 2020/21 Premier League season with six goals and five assists, is another figure who could turn England into a multidimensional outfit. 

Three at the back masked England’s deficiencies in central defence in Russia three years ago, but is there any real need to do that now? If Harry Maguire is fit, Southgate will have one of the best centre back pairings at Euro 2020 between the Manchester United captain and John Stones, fresh off the back of an exceptional title-winning season for Manchester City.

A back three would allow Southgate to play both Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker in the same team, with the latter afforded the freedom to charge forward from his right-sided centre back position. However, an extra central defender, even one with the brief to move the ball up the pitch, would rob England of control in midfield.

Being bold might mean Southgate has to bench Marcus Rashford, at least for England’s opening fixture against Croatia. The 23-year-old is a national treasure and one of his country’s most talented players, but he is desperately lacking in confidence and form despite his encouraging display against Romania. England can’t afford to carry any passengers.

What’s more, Southgate has various options in the wide areas, with Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho capable of playing on either flank. Foden and Grealish are also comfortable on the left. Southgate mustn’t wed himself to one system or lineup. He will have to adapt and tailor his team’s approach throughout the tournament.

The biggest obstacle to England making a deep run at Euro 2020 could be the draw, with Southgate’s side likely to face France if they finish second in Group D or one of either France, Germany or Portugal if they finish top. Nonetheless, Southgate has the players to plot a route through the whole tournament. It’s now up to him to make the most of the opportunity.

 

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