Did Southgate get tough calls right?

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June 3, 2021
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    'If I could have picked five or six right-backs I would have done' – Southgate

    England manager Gareth Southgate has named the 26 players he hopes will end the nation's wait for a major trophy that stretches back to the 1966 World Cup.

    Southgate faced several big calls on form, fitness and squad balance for the European Championship as he finalises his plans for the opening game against Croatia at Wembley on 13 June.

    So did he get those major decisions right?

    • Listen to Daily Euros: Southgate picks his 26

    Alexander-Arnold gets the call

    The selection – or otherwise – of Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was the most vexed question in the build up to Tuesday's squad announcement.

    It was a debate started when Southgate left the 22-year-old out of the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland in March, fuelled by the fact England are well blessed in the position where Alexander-Arnold excelled for Liverpool while they won the Champions League and Premier League.

    In the end, Southgate included Alexander-Arnold as one of four right-backs in the squad, alongside Chelsea's Champions League winner Reece James, Premier League title winner Kyle Walker from Manchester City and Kieran Trippier, a La Liga winner with Atletico Madrid.

    It seems England's squad is seriously over-loaded in one position and not a position that necessarily defines the destiny of big games.

    Is Southgate's reasoning that Alexander-Arnold is simply too good a footballer to leave behind, a player with the capacity to be a game-changer in an attacking context that does not apply to the others battling for the right-back slot?

    His defensive qualities come under regular scrutiny but his deliveries from set-pieces, both in creating chances and scoring from dead-ball situations, are world class. He has a gift that has altered the course of big games.

    This means Alexander-Arnold, even if he is not first choice, can be used further forward to fashion openings.

    Four right-backs may seem too much (and probably is) but Alexander-Arnold's all-purpose attacking ability makes his selection the right move by Southgate, who pointed out that James, Walker and Trippier have also proved their versatility in the past.

    Southgate's hopes hang on key duo

    Harry Maguire (l)Harry Maguire (left) was on the bench for Manchester United in the Europa League final but he had not trained and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he was there in case of emergency

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    England's manager had no hesitation in selecting experienced pair Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire, despite both having suffered injury problems in the final part of the season.

    The somewhat lop-sided nature of England's squad, with those four versatile right-backs, maybe hints at Southgate's uncertainty that Maguire will be ready for the first game.

    Henderson and Maguire are two of the team's senior figures and have been hugely significant leaders and personalities on and off the pitch, going back to the run up to the World Cup semi-final in Russia in 2018.

    It explains why Southgate is setting those question marks over fitness to one side – even though they are clearly unresolved issues.

    Manchester United captain Maguire is still recovering from the ankle ligament injury that forced him to miss the Europa League final loss to Villarreal while Henderson, 31 in June, at least made his return to Liverpool's bench for the final game of the season after undergoing groin surgery in February.

    Maguire is vital for England's vulnerable-looking central defensive set-up while Henderson's mentality, ability and drive make him a crucial part of the entire England set-up.

    Neither are anywhere near full fitness yet, so while there is an element of risk in counting on Henderson and Maguire in England's Euros squad, it is an illustration of how important they are to Southgate.

    Southgate's young guns primed for action

    England will rely as ever on the world-class striking skills of the experienced Harry Kane but Southgate has shown again that he will trust in youth with his squad selection.

    While the likes of Maguire, Henderson, Walker, Trippier, keeper Jordan Pickford, Raheem Sterling and Kane have been mainstays, England will also look to a thrilling crop of young talent to make an impact.

    Chelsea's 22-year-old Mason Mount is a certain starter, confirming his quality in the Champions League final win against Manchester City, while on the opposite side Phil Foden, just 21, has developed into a magnificent attacking footballer with a versatility to fill so many attacking positions.

    West Ham United's Declan Rice has matured into a quality holding midfielder at just 22 while Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, now 25, was one of the Premier League's outstanding performers this term, a creator, scorer and possessor of an ability to dictate games which he has already shown for England.

    Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham is the baby of the squad at 17 but has demonstrated the talent and temperament to shine in the Champions League this season, while his team-mate Jadon Sancho already has experience under his belt at 21.

    And Arsenal's exciting Bukayo Saka, listed in the squad announcement as a forward but who has excelled as an attacking full-back, can also be added to that list.

    There was disappointment for the likes of Jesse Lingard and Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins, but while the squad may be top heavy in right-backs, there is a blend of youth and experience that Southgate hopes will bring success in what effectively amounts to a home tournament for England.

    Declan Rice and Jesse LingardWest Ham's Jesse Lingard was left out but is expected to start in England's friendly against Austria on Wednesday

    Source

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    June 3, 2021
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