Gareth Southgate’s side will be looking to put any qualms that pundits and fans have about his decision making and team selection to bed when its time for their opening game of Euro 2020 against Croatia, whom they lost to in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. On paper England have the second-best overall squad in the tournament, with only France having superior depth in all positions.
However, if England is to be victorious in their opening group game and beyond, Southgate will have to pick the correct starting XI. Any mistakes when picking the correct personnel could backfire greatly for the Englishman. Here is my English team that should start against Croatia and beyond the group stages.
Jordan Pickford: My first choice was Nick Pope, the Burnley man is a better overall keeper, makes fewer errors that lead to goals and has much more of a commanding presence to him than both Pickford and Dean Henderson. However, Pope picked up a knee injury ruling him out of what would have been his first major tournament. Ultimately, I have gone for Jordan Pickford to start between the sticks, the Everton man has experience at the international level and had a blinding World Cup campaign, so he starts.
Reece James: The right-back position for England has been scrutinised for months leading up to the reveal of Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad. After Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold had a difficult season, he was selected alongside Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James before being ruled out with a thigh injury sustained in a 1-0 victory over Austria. While Kyle Walker has a clear experience edge over the other two. Reece James has come into his own this season at Chelsea, playing both as a right-back and being utilised further forward as a right-wing back under Thomas Tuchel. After pocketing English team-mate Raheem Sterling in the Champions League final, his pace, power, and a much more balanced game puts him the clear starter.
Harry Maguire/Ben White: If Harry Maguire is fit, he starts, it’s that simple. After a terrible run of games after the season restarted in the 2019/2020 season and the start of last season, the big centre-back has proven to be an adequate defender. Without him, England could suffer greatly. Stones has not the same leadership qualities as Maguire has nor from set-pieces so without him, a back five might be introduced to solidify things with Kyle Walker introduced in a three-man defence accompanied by wingbacks. If Maguire is out, my first-choice back-up would be Ben White. The Brighton man replaced the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold and will be more than enough to ease England’s centre-back worries.
John Stones: England’s best centre-back based on overall ability and when he is on form, he has proven he is more than capable of producing on an international level. The Man City man had a great season next to Portuguese star Ruben Dias, it will be interesting to see how he does without a commanding and imposing centre-back like Dias beside him and with Harry Maguire potentially missing out, Stones needs to start every single game for England.
Luke Shaw: After having a difficult time at Manchester United since his horrific leg break in 2015, Shaw has proven me, along with many others wrong this season. Producing at a world-class level and being the best left-back in the Premier League and the world this season. Having Ben Chilwell as backup is a great choice to have if Southgate decides to play more attacking, but Shaw is the clear number one.
Declan Rice: The West Ham captain has been an integral piece for both club and country, with the defensive midfielder proving himself capable of more than sitting in front of the defence. Underrated in carrying the ball forward, his fierce tackling and being a voice in the middle of the pitch, the young midfielder brings balance to an already stacked midfield full of attacking prowess. He has to start.
Mason Mount: Chelsea’s player of the season has proven his doubters wrong with his spectacular performances this campaign. With Jordan Henderson struggling for match fitness, it could be a tournament to remember for the midfielder. Mount will arguably play a deeper role, bolstering creativity and with a finisher like Harry Kane up front, his excellent set-pieces and crossing game could be exploited heavily by Southgate to tear teams apart. His partnership with Declan Rice will be crucial in rather or not the game will be won or lost in the midfield for England.
Marcus Rashford: While the United star has had one of his best seasons in terms of goals and assists, he struggled at the latter part of the season for his club. However, his quality cannot be diminished, having originally gone for Grealish in this position, I could not leave Rashford out. Sterling has been out of form all season and England do not possess the same creativity or out and outpace out wide to stretch opponents. The United man deserves his spot.
Central Attacking Midfielder
Jack Grealish: Easily England’s most talented midfielder and should be one of the first names down on the team sheet. The Villa captain has had a hard road to get into this team, but his exploits for his club has made him a shoehorn in this current set-up. Playing better in a more advanced role, and with Declan Rice providing stability and balance behind him and Mason Mount possibly playing in a deeper role, Grealish should thrive in a front four.
Jadon Sancho: Phil Foden is a shoutout for this position, but Jadon Sancho starts out wide. Although he did struggle for space and looked tired against Romania, his record in the Bundesliga this season has been spectacular after a hard start.
Harry Kane: Playing Harry Kane does not need much explanation; the Tottenham talisman is on par with Robert Lewandowski as the current best striker in the role. With England’s hopes and expectations on his shoulders, if he delivers as he did at the World Cup, England will be hard to stop.