Football Features

England’s incredible U23 squad depth: Video analysis, options & line-up builder

By Squawka News

Published: 12:18, 25 August 2020

Watch the video at the top of the article to see Squawka’s analysis of the depth of Under-23 options England have at their disposal.

England manager Gareth Southgate is set to announce his squad for the Three Lions’ Uefa Nations League games against Iceland and Denmark on Tuesday.

Still looking to bring glory back to England for the first time since 1966, Southgate has been building a good side over the past few years, mixing youthful talent with vital experience.

Although the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling remain the stars of the Three Lions, should he so wish, Southgate could in fact name an entire competitive squad made up of  players under the age of 23 – according to the Olympics criteria set by FIFA which makes all players born on January 1st 1997 or later eligible.

Some of the youngsters that are yet to be capped may soon be knocking on the senior door. We’ve analysed the options in each position and put together a line-up of the cream of the crop….


Starting in goal, the talent pool is not quite as deep as other areas of the pitch. New Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was kept busy last season as Bournemouth lost their fight against relegation, making the third-most saves in the Premier League – and also joined Alisson as one of just two goalkeepers to record an assist.

Freddie Woodman was key to England’s triumph at the U20 World Cup in 2017, winning the Golden Glove and saving a penalty in the final. But the majority verdict is that Dean Henderson, now back at Manchester United after a successful loan at Sheffield United, is currently England’s top goalkeeping prospect.


The position in which England have the most strength in depth is certainly at right-back, with at least eight Olympic-eligible players to choose from. Naturally, discussion of England’s selection is often dominated by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka with the former strong in attack and the latter just as good defensively.

In 2019/20, no Premier League player made more tackles than Wan-Bissaka, while Alexander-Arnold recorded the most assists for a defender for the second season running, and played at least 94 more passes into the box than any other player.

But one shouldn’t forget about Reece James, who marries the strengths of both players, keen to deliver dangerous crosses into the box and competent in 1v1 battles.

England aren’t as strong on the left side of defence, with Ben Chilwell just missing out on the Olympic-age by 10 days. But in his stead, Buyako Saka – who was excellent for Arsenal in an unfamiliar role last term – jumps to the front of the queue, ahead of Brandon Wiliams and Ryan Sessegnon.

Whether moving into midfield or out to full-back, many English centre-back prospects have found themselves changing positions in order to earn valuable first-team minutes, at club level and for the Young Lions. But there are still three names that stand out.

Joe Gomez, Ben White and Fikayo Tomori all enjoyed solid 2019/20 campaigns for their respective clubs, even if the latter saw his playing time reduce after the restart. Until Liverpool’s defeat to Man City in July, Gomez hadn’t lost a Premier League game for 892 days and was the unsung hero of the title-winning side. White played every single minute of Leeds’ Championship-winning campaign, earning the Marcelo Bielsa seal of approval, while Tomori was one of Chelsea’s better performing defenders.


Moving into midfield, Declan Rice is England’s premium U23 holding option, with no outfield player making more ball recoveries in the Premier League since the start of the 2018/19 season. But who joins him is a trickier task.

The further up the pitch we get, the more England’s post-2000-born talent begins to dominate. In central midfield the two brightest options are 2017 U17 World Cup Golden Ball winner Phil Foden and 2017 U19 European Championship Golden Player Mason Mount, both of whom are thriving at club level in the Premier League.

As with the right-backs, England’s pool of wingers and wide-forwards is overflowing with quality and variety. In the league in 2019/20, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho directly contributed to 67 goals between them, though the former is more likely to be chosen as a striker than winger.

But there is another star in the Championship, in the form of QPR prodigy Eberechi Eze. The 22-year-old was the only player in the Championship to complete 100+ dribbles and win 100+ fouls during the 2019/20 season. He’s an England youth international but is eligible to play for Nigeria through his parents, and with no senior cap just yet could still become a Super Eagle.

The likes of Dwight McNeil, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Harvey Barnes represent other Premier League-experienced wingers who are ready for Southgate to call upon.


As previously mentioned, Rashford takes up one of our forward spots, but who joins him is an interesting debate. Tammy Abraham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin both represent solid options for a traditional No.9, if you are prioritising vertical presence, after personal-best top-flight seasons in 2019/20. But England also have a generational goalscoring talent on their hands.

Mason Greenwood is a supremely-gifted, two-footed finisher. During his breakout campaign, he laughed in the face of Expected Goals and fired his way into the Manchester United history books. No teenager in the club’s 142-year history has scored more goals in a single campaign.

Surely, one day, football is going to come home?