Gareth Southgate faces stumbling blocks leading up to the unveiling of England’s latest Euros selection
Gareth Southgate would never claim to have weathered a particularly difficult pandemic, despite contracting Covid-19 himself last fall. But the overwhelming oddity of the past 15 months has certainly hampered his preparations for the European Championship.
In addition to the obvious disruption due to the 12-month delay, the England manager has had to contend with working in isolation for most of the past year. He’s been cut off from his backroom team and analysts.
For the first two months after football resumed last summer, Southgate was not allowed to attend any games at all. Even when he returned to stadiums, the usual pre-match encounters with players, coaches and club directors were prohibited.
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Gareth Southgate faces several issues before appointing his last English Euros squad
Indeed, it took almost a year before he went to a game in the company of his assistant Steve Holland.
With chance encounters a thing of the past, the informal information network has dried up, so when assembling his team for the tournament, Southgate had to rely on the evidence of his own eyes, often looking at a screen like the rest of us.
UEFA’s decision to expand the tournament teams to 26 to guard against player fatigue after the busy season should have made Southgate’s life easier in theory, but the 50-year-old resisted the change because he feared it would leave him with too many unlucky players at the final. .
As Southgate announces an extensive selection on Tuesday, Sportsmail looks at the problems he needs to solve for the final announcement of his 26-man squad.
Southgate was unable to attend matches for a while, so he could only watch through a screen
The riddle of the right back
It says a lot about the stability that Southgate has brought about that the biggest headlines in the next 24 hours are likely to revolve around the identity of England’s third choice, although this also reflects Trent Alexander-Arnold’s supreme talent.
The Liverpool defender’s absence from the squad for England’s qualifiers in March caused major setbacks and his form has improved significantly since then as he played a key role in reviving Jurgen Klopp’s squad to finish in the top four .
Alexander-Arnold’s creative abilities are such that he has contributed more Premier League assists from the right back than Mason Mount and Jack Grealish managed from midfield – in fewer games – but Southgate continues to have doubts about the defensive tightness.
The biggest headlines are probably related to the possible absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold
The 22-year-old is also unlucky with the quality of his rivals. Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier both won national titles this season with Manchester City and Atletico Madrid respectively.
Reece James will face Walker for Chelsea in Saturday’s Champions League final.
Given their involvement with Porto will prevent them from taking part in England’s warm-up matches against Romania and Austria next week, perhaps the biggest dilemma Southgate faces is whether or not there is a risk of insulting Alexander-Arnold’s ego by putting him on the long list and then delete it week.
Southgate’s first pick of John Stones and Harry Maguire is set in stone, but otherwise the picture is less clear.
Manchester United captain Maguire is touch and go for England’s opening match against Croatia due to an ankle injury, which is one of the reasons Southgate has postponed the nomination of his entire squad.
Conor Coady’s skill on the ball is appreciated by Southgate and is likely to earn him a call-up, with the last mid-back berth contested by Tyrone Mings and Eric Dier.
Mings has the advantage of being the only left foot in the fight and thus providing balance, but Dier has experience with two major tournaments and could also provide cover in a midfield ravaged by injuries.
Southgate values flexibility, from which Dier is likely to benefit.
Eric Dier is also in danger of missing the squad, despite his ability to provide cover in midfield
Accidents in midfield
Jordan Henderson will certainly be on the roster, despite not having played since February, but the Liverpool captain is not the only injury concern in this area.
Kalvin Phillips sustained a shoulder injury on Sunday in Leeds’ 3-1 win over West Brom and Declan Rice played just three games for West Ham since resolving a knee problem in early May.
Although both should be selected, these doubts reinforce the arguments for the inclusion of Dier.
Jude Bellingham impressed the English coaches when he was first called up in March and his outstanding performance for Borussia Dortmund this season, particularly in the Champions League, could give him the nod about James Ward-Prowse.
Jude Bellingham had impressed the English coaches when he was first called up in March
A surplus of widows
Southgate is blessed with ample options, to the extent that he has only recently been converted to Grealish’s merits.
The Aston Villa captain is expected to make the cut to compete with Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Mount and Marcus Rashford, all of whom are sure to be chosen.
Jesse Lingard’s excellent form for West Ham in the second half of the season and good past performances for Southgate will also be rewarded. That will make Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka sweat on their recording.
Southgate is a great admirer of Saka and was very impressed by his willingness to enter the camp during rehab in Arsenal in March. But Sancho’s strong finish of the season at Dortmund may well take his place.
Buyako Saka sweats over his recording, despite Southgate being a great admirer of the star
How many strikers?
At the end of a season where Manchester City walked to the title without a recognized No. 9, Southgate is considering prioritizing other areas as well.
Harry Kane is of course the first name on his team magazine. But since the captain wants to play every minute, the need for alternatives can be limited.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was expected to provide support for Kane, but his inclusion is not guaranteed, with Ollie Watkins and Mason Greenwood offering options.
Given Rashford’s ability to play through the middle, Southgate would ultimately only be able to pick three specialized strikers, which would face some tough choices.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is expected to play a backup role, but his participation is uncertain
Who should be cut from the extensive selection?
With Southgate naming a bigger squad, he will have the tricky problem of dropping certain players when he has to announce his final list.
Egos can be damaged, so expect fringe players like Ben Godfrey, Mings and possibly the versatile Saka to be culled.
Tyrone Mings could be banned from Southgate’s final list when the Three Lions coach reveals it
The one that got away
Of all the options available for Southgate, one that is virtually off the table is Jamie Vardy’s inclusion.
Southgate said last October that the door was not closed to the Leicester striker, but Vardy is known to have little interest in being an international level squad player. What a pity that is.
He hit 15 Premier League goals this season and would have been a deadly option outside the bench.
Jamie Vardy is known to have little interest in simply being a squad player at the international level