An abundance of riches? Or too many square pegs in round holes? Our team of writers pick the England XI they would start in the opening Euro 2020 game vs Croatia.
The road to the summer is starting to come into view. The Three Lions have three fixtures to look forward to over the next week, with World Cup qualifying games against San Marino, Albania and Poland.
However, although positive results will be non-negotiable, manager Gareth Southgate will be keeping a close eye on individual performances as he plots his squad for the summer’s major tournament.
Our team of writers have picked their strongest England teams for the crucial opening clash with familiar foes Croatia on June 13.
Read on to see who they’ve chosen and why, then use our team selector to pick your best England XI…
Kate Burlaga – Agile and confident, Henderson deserves a chance
I’m sticking with the 4-3-3 formation – one that in my view harnesses and liberates England’s strengths.
John Stones and Luke Shaw have played their way into defence as it stands and, in an attacking team, the terrific Reece James for me offers a little more balance and security.
The prognosis for Jordan Henderson’s recovery will hopefully afford him enough time to get back into the groove; he is the experienced anchor around which Phil Foden and Mason Mount – a player proving himself ever-versatile as well as industrious – can craft.
Jack Grealish thrives cutting in from high up on the left, while Raheem Sterling has proved he is efficient too on the right and can drift into central areas if Harry Kane drops deeper.
The goalkeeping debate continues to compel. Nick Pope’s impressive stats have matched the eye test but Dean Henderson – agile, supremely confident and capitalising on an extended run between the Man Utd sticks – can now stake a legitimate claim.
Gerard Brand – Mount and Foden add nice mix
I feel for Southgate. Welcome headaches aren’t really welcome when there are a dozen acceptable variations of this XI. Shoo-ins are at a minimum and any perceived incorrect selection will be met with that inevitable frenzied tournament criticism.
It’s a five-man defence – Southgate’s choice in the last seven internationals and the right approach for tournament football.
Those who want England to go for the throat should be reminded the last five major tournament winners have drawn a group-stage game. If England lose against Croatia, it sets a negative tone; Southgate will be conservative.
Conor Coady is more a fit than a wish at centre-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s exclusion was puzzling but signals a toss-up between Reece James and Kieran Trippier – a regular for La Liga’s top side, for those who have forgotten – while John Stones and Luke Shaw return.
Jordan Henderson, Mason Mount and Phil Foden is the right mix of form and Southgate’s trust, but Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford haven’t done enough to oust Raheem Sterling or tip the balance from conservative to attacking in this opener. Alongside Jack Grealish, they should be given time against Scotland and Czech Republic.
Lewis Jones – Special delivery: Ward-Prowse gets my vote
Jordan Pickford has never put a foot wrong for England, so he gets the nod in goal.
Can England be trusted defensively against the elite teams? It’s all well and good filling the team with our gifted and exciting attacking players but Southgate will stick to a structure he knows. That will surely be a back five. For tournament football, playing with three centre-backs makes sense in terms of balance and protection. Plus, playing off the left of a three looks like Harry Maguire’s most comfortable position. Conor Coady performs week-in, week-out, in the Premier League in the middle of a three and has the leadership and reliability qualities to be trusted to play in big matches.
I’d much rather play John Stones as the right-sided centre-back as Kyle Walker in that role just hasn’t worked. Something we knew at the World Cup.
Surely Luke Shaw has grabbed the jersey down the left – his ability to create chances when roaming forward could be a massive weapon. An in-form Trent Alexander-Arnold is an automatic pick down the right but his absence from the squad surely opens the door for Reece James or Kieran Trippier to make an impact.
With England’s threat at attacking set-pieces among the best in world football under Southgate, it makes sense to have a world-class deliverer in James Ward-Prowse starting.
He offers more in that regard than Declan Rice and I like the energy that the Saints man and Jordan Henderson would provide in the engine room. They can then concentrate on moving the ball quickly to the front three of Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling – an attacking trio that could just take England to major glory.
Charlotte Marsh – The time is now for Pope
One of Southgate’s biggest decisions is in goal. Jordan Pickford has remained first choice, even when he has been under scrutiny for errors with Everton. But it’s time to give Nick Pope the chance he deserves, with the Burnley goalkeeper registering better numbers in almost every area and has been remarkable again this season. There’s still time to bring him up to speed as England’s No 1 and that must start in these March internationals – but will Southgate take the chance?
Harry Maguire is the most likely to start, but who to pair him with? Conor Coady provides much-needed leadership and defensive stability, which England will undoubtedly need in those hairy tournament moments, alongside a fellow Premier League captain.
John Stones has the most international experience, along with Maguire, but he has the scars to prove it too. But make no mistake about it – Stones and Tyrone Mings will be ready to step in at a moment’s notice.
Another tough call is who to leave out in attack. Mason Mount can play pretty much anywhere and gives Southgate vital tactical options without needing to make a substitution. If Jack Grealish is fit, he simply has to play, providing England some much-needed creativity to pick the locks of Europe’s best defences. Mount and Grealish together should be a mouth-watering prospect for any England fan.
However, if previous selections are anything to go by, you would expect Southgate to stick with his favoured players like Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford alongside England captain Harry Kane. But it’s time for Southgate to nail down his best XI – which should include Grealish – with three months to go until the Euros.
Adam Smith – I want silk over speed
Nick Pope earns the No.1 shirt for me. He’s made far more saves and conceded almost the same number of goals. His shot-stopping abilities appear slightly superior, particularly from distance – and expected goals data backs this up.
England have options in all areas now – not just in attack. John Stones and Luke Shaw have bolstered light areas in defence, while Declan Rice is shining brighter than ever at West Ham.
Jordan Henderson is a leader and invaluable at both ends of the pitch. But, up top, I have almost baffled myself by leaving out all three speedsters: Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho.
I’ve opted to start silky-skilled Jack Grealish and Phil Foden down the flanks, who have hit world-class form and can carry the ball through defensive lines, while Mason Mount provides midfield mettle and attacking thrust.
All that creative talent spells goals for Harry Kane, with James Maddison joining a star-studded bench.
Jack Wilkinson – Mount the midfield lynchpin
Nick Pope has been a noble deputy to Jordan Pickford in recent years, but the England No.1’s absence from the forthcoming World Cup Qualifiers leaves the door open to more competition. If Dean Henderson can exploit the opening in front of him just as he seems to have done in replacing David de Gea at Manchester United, he could be in pole position come this summer.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s omission from the latest squad will have set a fire under the Liverpool right-back but I have no doubt it will prove to be a managerial masterstroke from Southgate. He’ll have rediscovered his form just in time for the Euros, and alongside Harry Maguire, John Stones and Luke Shaw, England will have a competent defensive unit with unrivalled ball-playing qualities.
In front of the defence, the proven leadership qualities of Jordan Henderson will be instrumental to England’s chances, while the evolution of Declan Rice’s game makes for a multi-faceted midfield base.
Mason Mount has the ability to be the lynchpin of England’s attack, with his vision and awareness in a central position key to getting the best out of Raheem Sterling down the right flank and Harry Kane up front, as well as providing the protection needed for Jack Grealish’s talent to come to the fore.
Nick Wright – Sorry Trent, but caution key at tournaments
You need solid defensive foundations to go the distance at a tournament, so while it’s tempting to pack the side with as much attacking talent as possible, I’ve gone for a conservative XI capable of grinding out wins.
Jordan Pickford starts, largely for his unrivalled distribution, and I’ve opted for the back three that helped England reach the World Cup semis in 2018.
I disagree with Southgate’s decision to omit Trent Alexander-Arnold but his form is a worry and I prefer Trippier at wing-back. He has that crucial set-piece threat and defensively he’s benefitted from working with Diego Simeone.
I might have been tempted to go with Bukayo Saka at left wing-back, but he hasn’t played there enough this season and Luke Shaw is at the top of his game.
Jordan Henderson anchors the midfield, with Mason Mount and Phil Foden offering industry as well as creativity ahead of him, while Raheem Sterling’s pace will be vital on the break.
Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford are there to be unleashed from the bench.
Simeon Gholam – Pickford still the right choice, and please revert to a back four!
For all the talk of Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, it is Jordan Pickford who remains the right choice as England goalkeeper. His Everton form has been mixed at best in the last couple of years, but when it comes to big moments he has never let England down, and his distribution is also essential.
Gareth Southgate has got the call to drop Trent Alexander-Arnold wrong. Even in a season when his own level has dipped, he is still performing at a far higher standard than most of his rivals for the same position, while the form of John Stones should give Southgate the confidence to revert to a back four. With Joe Gomez likely absent, Harry Maguire remains the only realistic partner, and Luke Shaw has re-emerged as a shoo-in at left-back.
While Jack Grealish plays his best football in a more advanced position for Aston Villa, he is still a high-quality midfield option and England don’t need him as high up the pitch, plus with a base of Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice he should still have freedom to thrive.
Up front, it is a close call between Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford on the left, but England do not have the creativity elsewhere to carry both so it is the Manchester United man who earns that berth, while Phil Foden deserves a shot on the right side of Harry Kane.
You’ve seen our selections, now it’s time to pick your own…
We’ve left the comments open below to debate England’s best XI – but please follow the house rules.
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