This current international break is one of the few remaining chances for players to stake a claim to spot in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the European Championships. And there is a debate amongst fans about who should be in that squad come the summer. In particular, who should be in the midfield slots. England are very lucky at the moment in that they have a large number of very talented players who can play in those positions. But it will be extremely tricky to fit them all into a system.
Given that Southgate will likely switch up formations depending on the opponent, it’s hard to say how many midfielders will be included in the squad. But the sheer depth of talent in that area makes this a tough decision for Southgate to make sure he gets the balance of the squad right, so that he can cover all possibilities. Players like Phi Foden, Mason Mount, James Maddison and Jack Grealish are all vying for that spot in the team to be the main creative source. And for me, while it would be extremely tough on him, the one I would leave out of the squad would James Maddison. Phil Foden is one of those prodigiously talented youngsters, who is so talented, Pep Guardiola is more than happy to have him start in a team full of international talent. He looks so at home in a Manchester City shirt and an England shirt. Someone who can create something out of nothing and breeze through a defence. Having a player like that in the squad will be so important for the Euros, when your opponents are not San Marino, but rather France, Spain, Germany and Portugal. Foden can very easily take on three players, get past them and suddenly be in the opposition penalty box. That kind of more mercurial player will be crucial. Mason Mount meanwhile, just continues to impress for club and country. Mount has been at the heart of Thomas Tuchel’s revival at Chelsea this season, despite initial fears that he would lose his place. Instead, he has made himself a keystone of the team, one of the first names on the team-sheet. While playing San Marino is a mere formality for England, Mount was hugely impressive in his 45 minutes against England’s minnow opponent. He created eight chances and assisted a goal, further showing why every manager he has played under trusted him. Not only does he create chances on goal for fun, he’s also an extremely hard worker, more than happy to track back and do the defensive side of the game as well. He also moves the ball very well, constantly stretching the opposition about, making the pitch wider, trying to force an opening that can be exploited.
Grealish and Maddison are very similar players, in how they play, and their form for their clubs. Both have played extremely well for their clubs and lifted both Aston Villa and Leicester City into European contention. But I would take Grealish over Maddison. I just think Grealish would be a better fit right now. He draws an awful lot of fouls; he has actually won the most free-kicks in the Premier League this season. Maddison has an eye for goal and a good creative streak. He is also a good set-piece specialist but I just doubt whether he would be able to step up and deliver in an international tournament. This doesn’t even mention the fact that all the players I’ve mentioned so far are more attacking midfielders; all can drop into a deeper role, more akin to a Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard type role, but I don’t think that brings the best out of any of them. England have their options for central midfield as well. Players like Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, who looked so at home in an England shirt on Thursday, and Jordan Henderson if he can get himself fit in time to be a part of the squad. There are also players like Jaden Sancho to consider, where does he fit in the puzzle? Every position has multiple candidates that Southgate could decide to take to the European Championships this summer. And not everyone is going to agree with his choices. Players will be left out of the squad that don’t deserve to miss out on representing their country at a major competition. But ultimately, there are only 23 places available on the squad list. But for the first time for a long time, England have multiple world-class players they can look to, to try and break their 55 year duck and win a major competition.