Euro 2020 is just two months away and conversations are continuing about who should be in Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Last month it was the right-backs, and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s exclusion from the Three Lions’ squad to face San Marino, Albania and Poland. And now we’ve moved to the forward positions.
Speaking on Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville caused a bit of a stir when picking the 23 players they would take to the European Championships in June. Both left out Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, a decision many disagreed with, while Jesse Lingard and Bukayo Saka were also snubbed, and Mason Greenwood picked by Gary Neville.
But did they make the right call? Who, of the aforementioned four, should be part of England’s squad in two months’ time? And who unfortunately gets left out?
With the way Southgate sets up his England side, whether that’s three at the back or four, the Three Lions will likely operate with a three-man attack utilising Harry Kane and two wingers/wide forwards. In most fans’ minds, one of the two wider men should be Jadon Sancho who has featured in 18 of England’s 25 games since his debut in 2018.
There’s no denying that this has been arguably Sancho’s worst season for Borussia Dortmund since becoming a regular in their team, but like Alexander-Arnold at right-back, that doesn’t mean he’s been bad. Just below his extremely high standards. And even then, Sancho’s doing well.
The 21-year-old has played 21 Bundesliga games so far this season, missing five through injury and being an unused substitute in one. Despite the slightly lower game time, Sancho has still managed to record nine assists in the Bundesliga, bettered only by four players, and added a further six goals. Only Erling Haaland has been directly involved in more Bundesliga goals for Dortmund than Sancho this season.
The one negative you could say for Sancho is that he is yet to translate his Dortmund form over to the England team, although it isn’t a bad return with three goals and five assists in 18 matches. But that’s what puts Sancho behind some of the other stars, for Carragher.
“Jadon Sancho is playing at a really high level and his numbers are off the scale with Borussia Dortmund,” he said.
“I’ve just never been fully convinced in an England shirt yet and, with the emergence of Phil Foden and Jack Grealish as part of the front three, someone had to miss out.”
Jesse Lingard is a player nobody would have expected to be part of this conversation at the start of the season, but he’s here and he deserves to be. The 28-year-old has been one of the best English players in the Premier League in 2021 since his loan move to West Ham United.
In eight Premier League appearances for West Ham, Lingard has scored six goals and recorded three assists, with no player in the Premier League being directly involved in more strikes since his debut for the Hammers. In that time frame (starting February 3), Lingard is level with Harry Kane on nine direct goal involvements, also three clear of Michail Antonio, his closest West Ham team-mate.
While Sancho would be in the squad for his creativity, Lingard comes in with his goal threat, capable of playing behind Kane and joining the attack as he looked to do in the recent World Cup qualifiers.
The thing that probably counts against Lingard is his use in a more central role for West Ham, so he will be pit against the likes of Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish rather than the wingers.
“If you’ve got Mount, Grealish, [Raheem] Sterling and Foden, you’ve got enough players who can play in that connection position and do that role,” Neville said of Lingard’s potential exclusion.
Another interesting case is that of Bukayo Saka, who many feel should be in the England squad for his versatility. The 19-year-old made a name for himself in the Arsenal first team last season as a wing-back, and was being mentioned for England among the likes of Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw.
But Saka is a natural winger and has been used in a variety of positions for Arsenal this season, across both flanks, with more favour towards the attacking positions. As a result, Saka has been directly involved in seven Premier League goals so far this season, scoring five and recording two assists.
For most of the season Saka has been Arsenal’s brightest attacking star, outshining the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe, which is why people want him in the conversation for one of England’s forward positions.
Yet he is still seen as the utility man and more of a wing-back than a winger for those putting together their dream England squads. And, as Carragher said, would you want Saka as a back-up left-back if Southgate bins the three-man defence?
“Saka, I wanted him to be in it,” Carragher said.
“He can play so many positions and that in some people’s eyes might be a strength. But for me it was almost a weakness.
“At first I had him in ahead of [Ben] Chilwell but I was thinking, if Luke Shaw got injured in the first game, would you really want Saka, who sometimes plays on the right wing, as the left-back in a back four? I looked at that and I think I went with the safe option.”
And finally Mason Greenwood, who was put in Neville’s squad, with some calling it Manchester United bias. If the Euros went ahead last summer, Greenwood would have deservedly been in the 23-man England squad, having enjoyed an excellent run in the first half of 2020.
However, the teenager has had more of a subdued 2020/21, scoring just two goals and recording one assist in 1,385 minutes, spending most of that on the right wing rather than his preferred central position. It’s for that reason that he has to be considered as part of this group and not pit against the likes of Kane, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins and Patrick Bamford for the striker role.
However, that didn’t stop Neville from dreaming of a centre-forward spot for Greenwood.
He said: “I think Greenwood’s a brilliant finisher, if Harry Kane got injured. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, if we’re playing a top team, half an hour to go, we’re 1-0 up, to run the line, run them ragged, harass them, potentially get a goal, but his finishing is a little bit erratic.
“If England need a goal, I would bring Greenwood on. He’s naturally a better finisher than Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, even though he doesn’t have the goals of Sterling, and he’s got that quality in tight spaces in and around the box. I don’t think there’s a natural replacement for Kane, but I think Greenwood’s the only one who can really finish.”