In a tight evening of football, England beat Romania 1-0 in their final friendly before Euro 2020.
Captain for the day Marcus Rashford scored the only goal of the game, coolly dispatching a penalty won by the day’s best player: Jack Grealish. The display was decent enough as the Three Lions twice struck the bar in addition to their goals, and even won a second penalty that substitute Jordan Henderson then missed.
Before the game all the talk was of which player would take that final spot in the England squad, the one created by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury. There appeared to be three main candidates: James Ward-Prowse, Ben Godfrey and Ben White.
So how did these competing compatriots fare against Romania? Let’s have a look, shall we?
Southgate was so desperate to get a look at Ben Godfrey he played him at right-back despite taking a squad full of right-backs. And, well, as a full-back he was poor. He got forward often enough but he did so little with the ball and was so unsure of himself as to when to run around on the cover that England’s right-flank was a dead zone with all the action coming down the left.
Defensively, Godfrey was alright. He wasn’t great and Romania’s best chances did come from attacking him and his flank. Obviously he’s not a right-back so if he did go, he’d be playing in his natural position; but he didn’t show anything like enough today to suggested he should be the one to go to Euro 2020. He even ended the match in agony after getting nutmegged and then taken out by his own goalkeeper.
The “other Ben” fared better as he got to play in his natural position. The Brighton centre-back was good against the Romanians, helping to keep the visitors at arms length for the majority of the game. He looked mobile and bright, albeit he wasn’t much of a threat from set-pieces and, again, Romania’s best threats came from that side.
But Ben White is versatile. He can play in a back four, a back three, centre-back, right-back and even defensive midfield. That kind of versatility is important to Gareth Southgate and very useful to a limited squad and a tournament where you may have to switch players around quickly and perhaps even in-game without changing positions.
If one of the Bens is going, it should be Ben White.
While the Bens were good, the real star of England’s hopefuls was James Ward-Prowse. The Southampton midfielder was genuinely impressive at the heart of midfield. He was part of a double pivot with Kalvin Phillips and actually managed to outside the excellent Leeds man with a lively display.
Ward-Prowse was dogged in the midfield, constantly pressing and pressuring the Romanian players as they tried to work their counter-attacks. Ward-Prowse’s closing speed was really important to England maintaining a high line as he forced Romania into turnovers or at the least bad passes that led nowhere.
Then there was the set-pieces. Ward-Prowse is obviously a set-piece specialist, he’s scored 4 goals direct from free-kicks this season (no one else had more than 1) and since the start of last season he has created 82 chances from set-pieces, again more than anyone else in the division. And today he was brilliant from set-pieces, sending some stunning balls into the box with one leading directly to Calvert-Lewin hitting the bar with a header.
Most fouls won in the Premier League since the start of the 2019/20 season:
◉ Jack Grealish (277)
Most chances created from set-pieces in that time:
◉ James Ward-Prowse (82)
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 6, 2021
Southgate said that Trent Alexander-Arnold could have played for England as a midfielder, and of course the Liverpool man takes sublime set-pieces. So in that sense it’s hard to find a more natural fit to fill his squad spot than James Ward-Prowse.
Sure, Reece James, Mason Mount, Luke Shaw and Kieran Trippier are all good at set-pieces but none of them can compare to Ward-Prowse. And what’s more, he can take penalties (Southgate said he was next in-line after Rashford to take one today).
If you’re England and trailing in a knockout round game at the Euros, you’d be glad to have a Plan B as effective as throwing on Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Jack Grealish and James Ward-Prowse to try and bag a goal from a set-piece. And Ward-Prowse’s pinpoint set-piece delivery is key to making it all happen.
Obviously the risk of going to the European Championship with just four centre-backs, one of whom may not even be fit to play, is very real. So Ben White would be a safe, sensible pick. But if you’re trying to maximise England’s winning potential, there can be no other choice besides taking James Ward-Prowse to Euro 2020.