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6 decisions for Southgate to make ahead of England's Euro 2020 opener

Posted on June 10, 2021

Is Football Coming Home this summer? England played out their final pre-Euro 2020 friendly on Sunday evening as they secured a 1-0 win over Romania. A Marcus Rashford penalty midway through the second half was enough to gear up for Sunday's meeting with Croatia with victory.

Yet in the days leading up to the tournament, it's still hard to determine what Gareth Southgate's XI will be for the game at Wembley. There are still plenty of decisions Southgate needs to make ahead of Sunday's game and we look at six that are still up in the air.

What system does Gareth Southgate go for?

Having opted for a three-man backline during England's 2020/21 UEFA Nations League campaign, Gareth Southgate has reverted to a 4-3-3 system for the recent World Cup qualifiers as the Three Lions secured maximum points in their three games so far, defeating San Marino, Albania and Poland in the process. In an ideal world, Southgate would stick with a setup that plays to England's strengths, but the lack of central midfield options suggests a change to a three-man defence could be on the cards.

Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and a half-fit Jordan Henderson make up the four options available to Southgate, though there is the potential to bring Mason Mount into the side and allow for the Chelsea man to push on. However, with Phillips, too, only recently returning from injury, Southgate may feel the safer bet is to go for a three-man defence against Croatia this weekend before reverting back to a 4-3-3 against the Czech Republic and Scotland.

Who does Gareth Southgate use in defence?

Harry Maguire is back running, which is a huge boost for England, but it will have been over a month since the Manchester United captain last played by the time Sunday's meeting with Croatia comes around. John Stones also played no part in their warm up meetings with Austria and Romania - more on that later - which leaves Gareth Southgate with a selection dilemma at the heart of the defence.

Tyrone Mings played both warm up matches and as the only left-footed centre-back in the squad, his inclusion in the potential absence of Maguire makes sense. There is also the option to use a three-man backline with Conor Coady - an seasoned head in such a setup - featuring, but it's hardly been ideal preparation for Southgate.

Will the Chelsea and Manchester City players be ready for Sunday?

Injuries permitting, seven of the 23 players Gareth Southgate has selected for England's Euro 2020 campaign ply their trade for Chelsea or Manchester City. The pair clashed in the Champions League final a little over a week ago, which means they have been granted additional time off to prepare for the summer tournament.

However, this has had an adverse effect on preparation for their Euro 2020 opener. None of those seven have featured for England in any capacity in the week leading up to the meeting with Croatia and, in theory, all could well start at Wembley. Compare that with Croatia, who in Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Belgium, fielded what could be considered a first choice XI. Zlatko Dalic's side may use this continuity to their advantage and claim a early-group stage scalp this weekend, particularly if Southgate goes heavy on the Champions League final contingent.

Who will occupy the full-back roles?

Of the five full-backs in the England squad for Euro 2020, three - Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Kyle Walker - play for Chelsea or Manchester City. That leaves Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw as Gareth Southgate's only two options for right and left-back, respectively, of those to have made an appearance for England in the last week.

Trippier and Shaw aren't exactly poor options, of course - only Jose Gaya (7) registered more assists than the former (6) of LaLiga defenders last season, while the latter's 72 key passes was the seventh best in the Premier League - but neither are first choice for England either. The most rested of the quintet, Southgate has two quality attacking full-backs that have international action under their belts in the last few days and that could be key against Croatia.

Is Jordan Henderson ready to start in central midfield?

England vice-captain Jordan Henderson hardly covered himself in glory in Sunday's 1-0 win over Romania. The Liverpool man pulled rank on Dominic Calvert-Lewin to take a second half spot kick, which was saved by Florin Nita. Coming on at half time against Romania, it marked Henderson's first game for club or country since sustaining a groin injury in Liverpool's 2-0 defeat to Merseyside rivals Everton in February.

However, it was a cameo he would like to quickly forget. It has been four months since Henderson last made a competitive appearance and to thrust him into action against a midfield trio of Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic would prove quite the baptism of fire. When fit, Henderson is rightly one of the first names on the teamsheet, but England may be better off at Wembley using the Liverpool midfielder from the bench.

Who does Gareth Southgate use in support of Harry Kane?

There was a period where Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford would flank Harry Kane and it was a system that worked well. However, the former's lack of form and game time for Manchester City coupled with the latter's injury issues opens up space for compatriots to take advantage, namely Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish.

Sancho enjoyed yet another impressive Bundesliga campaign as he finished the season fourth for assists (11) and fifth for key passes (67). Grealish, too, excelled as he, despite missing 12 games through injury, finished third for key passes (81) in the Premier League. Then there is Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka to consider, though the former's involvement in the Champions League final means he is yet to feature for England this summer. Like at full-back, Gareth Southgate is blessed with ample options in the final third and it'll be interesting to see who he elects to use in support Kane against Croatia.

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