Our preview of England’s European Championship options continues with the midfield now under the microscope. It’s undoubtedly England’s most contested position and one which could well dictate the success of their upcoming Euros campaign.
We know Southgate will prioritise a defensive-minded approach, which means at least one outright defensive-midfield will be guaranteed a role, perhaps at the expense of an advanced or attacking playmaker.
That might not necessarily be England’s best plan of attack to win the European Championship but it’s how Southgate will be expected to operate. With that in mind, who will be assured of a place in the final squad, and who still has work to do before the end of the season to earn a place in his thinking?
On The Plane
First and foremost, Jordan Henderson will start in the centre of the park for Southgate this summer.
West Ham’s Declan Rice will also be a key part of Southgate’s thinking, and consider too that Eric Dier, who was included as a defender, could also feature in midfield.
That’s three places already taken up, so let’s move swiftly on to the limited few that remaining.
Thanks to an impressive season thus far with Man City, Phil Foden will be fairly assured of a place. The youngster has six goals and three assists in the league this season.
Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) and Mason Mount (Chelsea) will also feature, while I think James Ward-Prowse should also be considered, potentially as a set-piece threat.
One final pick will be Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. Perhaps Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang aside, he has been the Gunners’ best player this season. Southgate could even ease some of the burden on midfield selection by naming Saka as a wing-back option.
Either way, he fully deserves to be on the plane.
Of England’s remaining options, Tottenham’s Harry Winks will be knocking loudest at the door for a place. He’s been a regular part of the squad over the past 12 months, so he’s already achieved reasonable standing in Southgate’s thinking.
Also on the fringes, but still with work to do to break into Southgate’s premier options will be Leicester’s James Maddison and Fulham’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
For Loftus-Cheek, it’s a case of proving his fitness. Fulham are struggling at the bottom end of the league, but their position should have no bearing on whether or not the midfielder is picked at international level. He’s been one of their most impressive players, and if he stays fit for the remainder of the season, he’ll be in with a chance.
Maddison, meanwhile, can make things happen for England; but he’s probably behind Jack Grealish right now for a starting role. However, his club form – 11 goals and 10 assists from 32 appearances – should not be ignored.
West Ham’s Jesse Lingard has not played for England since October 2019, so he would have begun the season fairly low down Southgate’s list of priorities. But since moving to West Ham on loan last month, he’s found some form and he’ll be playing his way back up the list.
For me, there are two more names to consider on the fringes – Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, and Leicester’s Harvey Barnes.
Bellingham made his senior international debut against Republic of Ireland last November, and has yet to receive any opportunity to add to that single cap. But he is still in with a chance of featuring more prominently this summer. Yet while he is one for the future, I would expect Southgate will hand any available midfield slot to an experienced name.
The same could be said for Barnes, but if England find themselves short of quality wide players, Barnes should be considered after an impressive season.
Back Of The Queue?
As it stands, the next player in the pecking order is probably Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi; though England will have four or five wingers/wide players ahead in the race.
Earlier in the campaign, I might have put Ross Barkley in with an outside chance. His performances have dropped of late, and he’s been out of England’s squad for some time, so he needs to rediscover that earlier form with Aston Villa to climb higher.
Though they are two quality players on their day, a lack of appearances means neither Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Dele Alli are likely to break into the squad; meanwhile, Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips has struggled with injury.