Gary Neville believes Declan Rice is one of two players alongside Harry Kane currently “undroppable” in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Rice, 22, has been a regular fixture in Southgate’s England squad across the past year, recently starting in the nation’s Euro 2020 Group D opener against Croatia, in which the West Ham midfielder nullified the threats of Luke Modric and Co as the Three Lions sealed a 1-0 win.
The victory, courtesy of Raheem Sterling’s second-half effort, ensured England have triumphed in a European Championship opener for the first time ever. However, Rice would have been more satisfied with the clean sheet as his midfield exploits safeguarded Southgate’s defence.
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Kalvin Phillips stole the headlines on the day as he abandoned his attacking inhibitions and set up Sterling’s match-winner, but Rice’s under-the-radar productivity kept England’s rhythm consistent, and those often-undervalued traits are what makes him indispensable to Southgate in the eyes of Neville.
In his column for Sky Sports, Neville wrote: “My feeling after the Croatia game was that Shaw or Chilwell could come in, but that midfield won’t change.
“Jordan Henderson is not at the same level fitness-wise as Phillips and Rice. I feel Harry Kane is undroppable in this England team, but I’d put Declan Rice pretty much up there at the moment, he’s going to play every game.”
“They’re going to need to keep clean sheets if they’re going to win this tournament”
Portugal famously conceded four goals in Group F of Euro 2016, finishing third, before Fernando Santos changed his tactical set-up and went with a more pragmatic approach. From there, Portugal kept three clean sheets in four knockout games — conceding just once — including the final and won the tournament.
Neville believes that if England are to stand a chance of winning Euro 2020 then Southgate will have to follow a similar blueprint, which may not sit well with some Three Lion supporters, who pine for Jack Grealish and Phil Foden to start together, but clean sheets are the bedrock of any succesful campaign in his view.
He continued: “I think what we saw against Croatia was Southgate’s reaction to what all of us were thinking pre-tournament; that their weakness is defence, and that they’re going to need to keep clean sheets if they’re going to win this tournament.
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“That double pivot, or the two midfield players in front of the back four, isn’t going to change, you can be absolutely sure of that.
“The big question is whether Kieran Trippier will remain at left-back; there is no doubt that Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell will be better going forward attacking-wise, but it’s whether Southgate feels Trippier gives the defence that edge in aiming for the clean sheet, which is so important.
“When you get to a tournament, you can talk about scoring goals all you like, but you know you’re going to come up against Portugal, France, Germany or Spain at some point in this tournament, and you’re going to have to defend well.”