Euro ramblings – England expects by Jade Craddock
It seems that every man and his dog has been picking their England XI for the Croatia game, so why not jump on that proverbial bandwagon and add my own tuppence to the mix. I’m sure Gareth Southgate and his team will have been waiting on tenterhooks for my selection, although I suspect if our line-ups don’t quite match up, it’s probably because I just missed the cut-off point for getting the teamsheet in.
As if choosing the actual players isn’t hard enough, there’s the whole matter of first selecting a formation. Do you go for a back three or back four? A diamond in midfield or a Christmas tree? I must admit with our top-heavy attacking talents, I even wondered about an upside down Christmas tree of 1-2-3-4 – otherwise known as inverting the pyramid – but sadly it’s still little used outside of Barcelona. With the emphasis on attacking play, however, I have opted for 4-2-3-1, giving solidity at the back and allowing freedom up top.
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Whilst Jordan Pickford may be the more experienced and obvious option, there is something about Dean Henderson’s confidence and mental strength that appeals, and, most importantly, he’s a great goalkeeper. It is one of the hardest and most scrutinised positions in football, with one error potentially changing the fortunes of a team, but if anyone can back himself and step up it is Dean Henderson.
Right-back: Kyle Walker
Who knew that the position of right-back would be such a talking point? In the past, we’ve tended to have a very clear first-choice option and a half-decent back-up, but this year we’ve practically got a five-a-side team and each of them could rightly warrant the spot. I’ve gone with Kyle Walker for the balance he gives in both attack and defence and his pace to get back when needed.
Centre-back: John Stones
With Harry Maguire likely to miss out on the Croatia game, John Stones seems the natural first-choice. I’m still not entirely convinced about him, especially without a steady presence next to him, but he’s had something of a resurgence this season for Man City and is easily the most experienced of the available options.
Centre-back: Ben White
Despite being a last-minute addition to the squad, Ben White finds his way into my starting XI. Just 23 and with 2 caps to his name, he may seem a bit of a surprise inclusion, but he has consistently impressed over the last couple of seasons and is a calm and comfortable presence at the back.
Left-back: Ben Chilwell
Unlike right-back, the choice of left-back effectively comes down to a two-horse race between Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw (although Kieran Trippier and Bukayo Saka can do more than a job there too) and Chilwell gets the nod from me, not least because of his attacking strength and forward-thinking.
Centre-midfield: Declan Rice
Declan Rice is an absolute shoo-in for me. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 22, having come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of seasons in the midfield berth. Hard-working, reliable and developing into a top-class midfielder, Rice makes for an easy and secure choice.
Centre-midfield: Jude Bellingham
The young stars chosen for England squads of the past have a bit of a chequered history, but as the old adage goes if they’re good enough, they’re old enough. And in the brief glimpses of 17-year-old Jude Bellingham in an England shirt, it seems he’s very much good enough. For me, it’s a question of why not give him a shot?
Attacking-midfield: Phil Foden
I’m not sure how Phil Foden could possibly be left out these days. On the back of an impressive season for Manchester City, in which he scooped the PFA Young Player of the Year, Foden has emerged as one of England’s brightest and most exciting lights and is able to unpick defences and create opportunities.
Attacking midfield: Mason Mount
Another player who has continued to step up, Mason Mount was pivotal in Chelsea’s pursuit of the Champions League this season and the young midfielder keeps on improving. He provides the perfect balance for the other attacking players around him and can contribute vitally to the attack.
Attacking midfield: Jack Grealish
Despite a wealth of attacking talents, Jack Grealish would be the first name on my teamsheet. Direct, positive and forward-thinking whenever he gets the ball, Grealish makes things happen. He’s a nightmare for the opposition, as evidenced by the multitude of fouls against him, but a dream for England. Although, if I was Grealish, I’d invest in much bigger shin pads!
Striker: Harry Kane
Whilst a lot of English strikers have really stepped up this season, including England members Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ollie Watkins, as well as those like Patrick Bamford and Danny Ings who missed out, Harry Kane remains the focal point and rightly so, having come off the back of a season in which he topped both the goalscoring and assists charts. If Kane is fully firing, England can cause problems.
So, there you have it, and while it’s not as easy as it seems to pick a starting XI having the likes of Rashford, Sterling and Sancho as back-ups who can step in fresh in the second-half is a major advantage of this squad. And if it all starts to go pear-shaped, we can always trial the upside down Christmas tree – oh, sorry, I meant inverting the pyramid.