After the heartbreak of the 2018 world Cup, England will be looking to end 55 years of hurt at Euro 2020 this summer.
There were dreams of football coming home again almost three years ago as England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990, before eventually losing to Croatia and finishing fourth.
The Three Lions bounced back and, after also reaching the Uefa Nations League semi-final in 2019, set their sights on qualifying for Euro 2020 knowing the final would be at Wembley. It was an almost perfect run through qualifying with England finishing top of their group, winning seven of their eight games against Czech Republic, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Montenegro. The sole dampener was a defeat to the Czech Republic, ruining the perfect record.
Excitement is building for England ahead of this summer’s tournament, with the Three Lions among the favourites to win as usual. But just how well can they do? And who is going to be playing for them? Gareth Southgate caused a bit of a stir with his latest England squad, for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland, in leaving out right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. Kieran Trippier and Reece James were chosen over the Liverpool man and while Southgate confirmed it was down to form, he also revealed there was every chance Alexander-Arnold could win his spot back before the summer.
“I don’t think he’s played at the level he’s been at during the last few years,” he told reporters.
“Trent is of course a super talent and he’ll, I’m certain, play a big part in the future. He misses out this time but we could quite conceivably be sitting here in the summer and he’s with us.”
The best players England will bring to Euro 2020
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson
Jordan Pickford has been England’s first-choice goalkeeper for some time but in Dean Henderson he appears to have a fitting rival and potential replacement for this summer’s tournament. Henderson has performed excellently when called upon for Manchester United, where he is challenging De Gea for the number one jersey. It would be a big call to make in the summer, considering the relationship Pickford has built with the usual defenders, but Henderson looks to be the future.
Defender: Harry Maguire
If Henderson is picked to be number one, it would be a great help for him with Harry Maguire as part of the defence. And even if he isn’t, Maguire is the one constant in Southgate’s back three and will be hoping to have a similar tournament to Russia 2018. It was at the World Cup that ‘Slabhead’ (as he was affectionately nicknamed) endeared himself to the nation, particularly when opening the scoring in England’s 2-0 quarter-final win over Sweden. He continues to be an aerial titan, particularly defensively, and will be key to England’s European hopes.
Midfielder: Jordan Henderson
Over the last two years or so, the Liverpool captain has added an almost non-stop winning mentality to the midfield. Henderson’s tenacious, lead-by-example mentality will be integral to the Three Lions’ chances of success. His experience and leadership qualities will be crucial for what is likely to be a young England Euro 2020 squad whether he’s starting or playing a substitute role.
Forward: Harry Kane
England are blessed with a number of talented wingers but without Harry Kane they won’t be able to hurt opponents. The Three Lions’ captain is one of the best English strikers for quite some time and won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup, scoring six goals. However, his game has evolved since then, particularly in a different role when he was playing under Jose Mourinho at Tottenham. Expect Kane to offer a lot more than simply goals for the Three Lions as well as he can also drop deep to free the space in behind for speedy wingers like Rashford, Sterling and Sancho.
The manager: Gareth Southgate
Southgate was brought into the England set up in bizarre circumstances in 2016, replacing Sam Allardyce after his very brief tenure. The appointment was overshadowed by the events that led to it and there weren’t many opinions on how Southgate would do, aside from drawing on his previous work with the Young Lions. After all, his only previous senior management experience was with Middlesbrough, where he was relegated and sacked in his final season.
But fast forward to the summer of 2018 and Southgate became a hero to England fans, leading the Three Lions to their first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, giving supporters of a certain age their first taste of such a deep run. It wasn’t perfect, and Southgate has since come under criticism, particularly for his record against the so-called bigger nations and squad decisions (with competition for places high) but the former Middlesbrough man remains England’s leader.
Regardless of who goes to the Euros for England, you can be certain Southgate will stick with the three-man central defence he has relied on since 2018, as it has helped keep them secure when they need it. As with most three-at-the-back formations, England will rely a lot on their wing-backs to get forward to ensure they are not lacking in attack, especially if Southgate goes for a safer midfield duo like Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson.
At the 2018 World Cup, Trippier emerged as the Bury Beckham and had a lot of luck, but the likes of Reece James and Alexander-Arnold are certainly suitable replacements, particularly with the former now playing in that role for Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea. On the other side, the likes of Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell and even Bukayo Saka could provide good options.
The marauding wing-backs will allow the three forward players to focus their games a lot more centrally, especially with Marcus Rashford who can be equally dangerous on the wing and through the middle. The partnership, and finishing, of Rashford and Sterling will need to be at its best with Kane expected to drop deeper to collect the ball and play a quarterback-esque role. We saw it at the World Cup in Russia, with Kane sometimes dropping as deep as his own half to receive the ball but back then it was to England’s detriment as his fellow forwards had been staying out wide rather than filling in the gap he had vacated.
But the beauty of the front three, and England’s attacking talent, is that a 3-4-3 could easily be framed as a 3-4-1-2, 3-4-2-1 or even 3-5-2 depending on the opposition. But again, it all rests on the synergy of that front three and the wing-backs being on attacking form.
The form guide
Euro 2020 qualifying: WWWLWWWW
England had a fairly routine path to Euro 2020, with Czech Republic the only team highlighted as capable of given them an issue. But in England’s opening group game they beat the Czechs 5-0, showing a sign of things to come. Only once did England fail to score at least four goals in their eight qualifying games, although that did come in a 2-1 defeat to Czech Republic, the only blemish in an otherwise perfect group stage. Montenegro conceded 12 in two games against the Three Lions, Bulgaria 10 and Kosovo nine, with England only conceding six in return.
Recent fixtures: WWWWLWLWWDW
While England cruised to Euro 2020 qualifying, the 2020/21 Uefa Nations League campaign was not kind. Previously reaching the semi-finals, England finished third in their group behind Belgium and Denmark, winning three, drawing one and losing two of their six matches. However, the Three Lions put those results to the back of their minds and made a perfect start to World Cup qualifying in March, beating San Marino, Albania and Poland.
England’s Euro 2020 odds
It may be strange considering England haven’t won a tournament since the 1966 World Cup, nor have they even reached a final, but there is optimism surrounding the England camp thanks to the run in Russia. In fact, the Three Lions are favourites to win Euro 2020 and Sky Bet are offering odds for 5/1 for England to end those 55 years of hurt (understandably 2/5 to win their group, ahead of Croatia, Scotland and Czech Republic, and 1/50 to simply qualify).
England also have the favourite for the Golden Boot, with Kane expected to win the accolade having done so at the 2018 World Cup. The Tottenham striker is 5/1 with Sky Bet to become the first Englishman to win the Golden Boot at the European Championship since Alan Shearer at Euro 96, coincidentally the last time the competition was held in England.
(Odds in this article are correct at the time of writing. 18+ only, BeGambleAware.org)