https://www.sportinglife.com-Who is most at risk of being cut from the England squad?
After Gareth Southgate named his 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2020, we take a look at a handful of players under threat of being cut when the England boss finalises his 26-man group on June 1.
Godfrey and White surprise call-ups
Eric Dier has had a poor season, and though Gareth Southgate has traditionally given the Tottenham man the benefit of the doubt, this time he was a notable omission.
Harry Maguire has been included in Manchester United’s squad for the Europa League final, but it is still unclear whether he has recovered from the ankle injury that saw him miss the final weeks of the Premier League season.
This uncertainty surrounding Maguire’s fitness, along with Dier’s surprise absence, has opened the door for a couple of young defenders.
Godfrey vital to Everton improvement
Everton’s season may have come to an anticlimactic end, but the one consistent throughout was their defensive improvement under Carlo Ancelotti, narrowly missing out on their best campaign in terms of goals conceded since 2016/17.
I recently picked out Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate as players who should have been getting more praise, and in turn talked about as England prospects, having played a big part in that defensive solidity. Godfrey has been noticed.
After joining from Norwich last summer, he made 30 appearances for the Toffees this term, with 10 of those ending in clean sheets.
He has been vital to Everton’s relative success, and his numbers compare well to both Maguire and John Stones, but more importantly, Ben White – another surprise inclusion.
White now Premier League quality
But perhaps he shouldn’t have been.
After returning to Brighton from his loan spell at Leeds last summer, White has quickly become a vital cog in Graham Potter’s defence, and played all but two Premier League matches this season.
Despite Brighton’s finishing position of 16th, defensively, they were relatively solid, with only four sides recording more top-flight clean sheets.
Who will start at right-back for England?
There are four right-backs in his 33-man squad, but surely Gareth Southgate cannot take all of them to the European Championship – can he?
Kyle Walker looks nailed on, the Manchester City man’s versatility to play as a full-back or as a right-sided centre-half, as well as his blistering recovery speed, makes him a shoo-in for the final squad.
It is also difficult to see Southgate not taking Kieran Trippier. The Atletico Madrid man is fresh from a La Liga title, he can play either side as a full-back or as a wing-back, and has tournament experience.
As well as all these things, his dead-ball delivery is rivalled only by Trent Alexander-Arnold, but Trippier has done it for England at a major tournament in the past, registering a record-equalling number of assists at the 2018 World Cup.
Alexander-Arnold was dropped by Southgate for England’s opening World Cup qualifiers in March, but the Liverpool man was in good form in the latter stages of the season and looks to have played himself back into contention.
His defensive ability is still questionable though, which could be why Reece James has also been included.
The Chelsea man has improved under Thomas Tuchel and it was testament to the trust his club manager has in him that he played as a right-sided centre-back in the FA Cup final.
James’ ability to play in a variety of positions could well put him ahead of Trent in Southgate’s thinking, and the final right-back spot does look to be between these two players.
This is definitely the toughest decision the England boss has on his hands.
Will Saka be picked for Euro 2020?
Given the decision to expand the selection, it wasn’t a surprise to see Bukayo Saka included.
The Arsenal youngster wasn’t picked in the most recent international squad because of injury, but did play in all three of England’s games in November.
The squad selection has Saka listed as a forward, a position he has been playing more often as the season drew to a close at Arsenal, especially as they shifted from a back five to a back four.
He offers that flexibility if needed, as a left-footed wing-back or even in central midfield, but let’s assess him in the position he has played so well in for a poor Arsenal team this term – as a forward.
What is expected goals (xG)?
- Expected goals (xG) is a metric that measures the quality of any given scoring opportunity
- Expected goals for (xGF) is the xG created by a team
- Expected goals against (xGA) is xG conceded by a team
- Expected Goal Involvement (xGI) = Expected Goals (xG) + Expected Assists (xA)
Southgate has selected three out-and-out strikers (Harry Kane, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Ollie Watkins) and Mason Greenwood who can play wide or through the middle. Realistically, Saka will be competing with Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford for a spot at Euro 2020.
While it is highly unlikely he will make the final squad, his underlying numbers do make for interesting reading. Saka averaged 0.42 expected goal involvements per 95 minutes (xGI/95) in a mediocre Arsenal team this season.
Rashford averaged 0.40 xGI/95 for a Manchester United side who finished second in the Premier League and boast much more attacking flair.
Sterling (0.58) and Sancho (0.66) are well clear of both, and though Saka is the outsider of the group to make the final squad, he perhaps isn’t getting the credit he deserves.
I know we’re debating who is in or out of the squad, but a small point on who is likely to start in the wide areas. Rashford is 4/6 to get the nod against Croatia in England’s Euro 2020 opener, with Sancho 9/4. Based on the underlying numbers, Sancho offers more in both xG/95 and xA/95.
But it is Rashford who has the trust of Southgate, having been a mainstay of England teams since 2016.
Sancho gets forgotten about because of nothing more than location. His England prospects could improve, then, if he does eventually join Manchester United this summer. But we’ve been here before…
Greenwood or Watkins for England?
Mason Greenwood has really had to fight hard to get back into the England reckoning after losing his place following a breach of Covid-19 protocol back in September while the Three Lions were in Iceland.
Surely he never lost hope, though, after seeing Phil Foden return to the international fold having been dropped for the same reason. Once again, Gareth Southgate has proven willing to let bygones be bygones.
But up until recently, the more pressing issue for Greenwood was his own lack of form, and the emergence of other players in attacking positions during his enforced exile. He was perhaps the chief beneficiary of UEFA’s decision to expand the squad sizes for Euro 2020 from 23 from 26.
Prior to that news, it really did look a tight squeeze; Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have all been a heavy odds-on to make the squad since the turn of the year.
Finding his form
Before Manchester United’s trip to Tottenham on April 11, the 19-year-old was to make Southgate’s 23. A goal and assist off the bench inspired a second-half turnaround, and a halving of those odds. He never looked back.
Greenwood scored just four goals in his first 39 appearances, mostly off the bench, for club and country this season.
Before United decided to down tools having secured runners-up spot in the Premier League, keen to preserve their energy for the Europa League final, he had found the net eight times in 11 games.
By the time of the increased squads announcement The teenager has peaked at the right time.
Watkins not in Greenwood’s class
Ollie Watkins has enjoyed a fantastic debut top-flight season for Aston Villa. Much of the club’s improved form, which led to them safely securing a mid-table finish after final-day survival last term, can be attributed to his impact leading the line; as well their excellent defensive numbers.
To score 17 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions is impressive, and while Greenwood is a direct, attacking threat cutting in from the right-hand side to unleash shots, Watkins is more of an all-round centre-forward.
It does feel unlikely he will make the cut, and his odds of 50/1 to start England’s opening game against Croatia – twice that of Greenwood – reflect that.
There isn’t really space in the 26 for two understudies to Kane, and Calvert-Lewin already has that job. Who is Southgate more likely to turn to in the closing stages of a match when in need of a goal, Watkins or Greenwood?