For the first time since the golden generation of the early 2000s, England head into a major tournament as one of the favorites. Gareth Southgate’s new wave of youthful stars will look to take Euro 2020 by storm and go at least a step further than they did at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The Three Lions have the opportunity to exact revenge for their semi-final loss, having been drawn in the same group as Zlatko Dalic’s side. England and Croatia will lock horns at Wembley Stadium later this week in what promises to be an intriguing Euro 2020 opener for Gareth Southgate and Co.
The 50-year-old is blessed with an embarrassment of riches and has the enviable task of leading arguably the most talented pool of players England have had in recent years. However, the Three Lions are sweating over the fitness of Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire, who are both recovering from injuries.
Both Henderson and Maguire are leaders in the dressing room and are integral members of the squad. But it goes without saying that there is an element of risk involved in calling them up for a major tournament with minimal match practice under their belt.
Anything can happen in the world of football, and I've been in such situations in my playing days, but players are at their brilliant best only when they are 100% fit. Henderson and Maguire could well play starring roles for England at Euro 2020, but as things stand, Southgate would be well advised to give them a bit more time to return to full fitness.
In the absence of two key players, England are likely to revert to a 3-4-3 formation against an impressive Croatia side. On that note, here’s my take on the strongest possible XI for England in their Euro 2020 opener against Vatreni:
Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford | Everton
England’s first-choice goalkeeper has to be Jordan Pickford. He had a good second half of the season with Everton and even worked with a sports psychologist to fine-tune his game.
He has been a reliable player for Gareth Southgate over the years and should retain his spot between the sticks for England.
Right center-back: Kyle Walker | Manchester City
Kyle Walker would prefer to play at right-back, but assuming Harry Maguire misses out against Croatia, the Manchester City man will have to deputize as a right-sided central defender. He’s played there in the past and is best suited to the role, as it would allow him to exploit the right flank if the opportunity were to arise.
Comfortable on the ball and not afraid of venturing with it into the opponent’s half, Walker might have a crucial role to play for Gareth Southgate at Euro 2020.
Center-back: John Stones | Manchester City
John Stones has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past 12 months and is likely to be the leader of the England backline in the absence of Maguire. He’s developed a good relationship with Ruben Dias at Manchester City and is more assertive than what was the case earlier. Stones has simplified everything and eradicated most of his errors from the game, making him the perfect candidate to marshal the England rearguard.
There was a time when the 27-year-old was tentative and hesitant, but his decisiveness on the ball has been the biggest difference to his game this season.
Left center-back: Tyrone Mings | Aston Villa
Tyrone Mings is my pick to complete the three-man backline. The Aston Villa man is left-footed and adds a natural balance to Gareth Southgate’s team with his aerial ability and leadership qualities. In my playing career, I liked to be around players who communicated well with the rest of the team. Mings’ vociferous nature is an important aspect of his game, so he could be the perfect candidate to partner Walker and Stones.
The problem for Mings, though, is his concentration. Euro 2020 is an unforgiving stage and he will be coming up against some of the best players in the world - it’s absolutely merciless and the smallest of errors could be punished severely.
Will he be able to iron these little lapses out of his game? He needs to follow John Stones’ lead and try not to get himself into too many muddles.
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