With the news that Euro 2020 is being postponed to 2021 (but still being called Euro 2020…), Paul explains why the delay may be a positive for the competitive attacking midfield role and runs the rule over Gareth Southgate’s options.
In an alternate universe, where a nasty killer disease hadn’t spread around the world, we would be moving into the very latter parts of the season, teams would have been crowned champions, promoted and relegated and pubs around the country would be sticking their posters on their walls for the Euro 2020 tournament.
Ironically, this tournament was to be the first European Championship to be hosted all around the continent, making it impossible to hold in any case. Say the tournament was hosted in Sweden or Norway, it may have still been able to go ahead and isolate teams. However, the sensible decision was made early on and Euro 2020 will now be held in 2021, but will be called Euro 2020. Strange times.
We will all miss the summer feast of football that a major tournament brings, and it remains to be seen whether premier league fixtures will go ahead in June and July. However, if the tournament does go ahead next summer, we will have it all to look forward to. And, for England, I believe there are some advantages to be had with the delayed start.
Before I go on to analyse the plethora of options Southgate has in the attacking midfield position, other advantages include the fact that both Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford were struggling to be fit for the tournament. One, or both, may have made it, but seemed touch and go whether they would be firing on all cylinders. Form was also an issue with some other players in the second half of the season; Raheem Sterling had gone off the boil and questions over our centre backs and Jordan Pickford persist. Sure, these may still be hot topics next season, but it bides Southgate some time to pick his best team.
Competition is welcome and is particularly fierce in the attacking midfield position. If we assume England will play the 4-2-3-1 formation they tend to choose, who will be at the centre of the attacking triumvirate? Let’s look at the runners and riders.
A staple in the past but running on borrowed time… DELE ALLI
Alli’s form heading into the World Cup two years ago was beginning to be questioned, and he hasn’t shown much to turn around his decline in form. The athletic dynamo who would arrive late in the box and grab 15-20 goals in a season now seems a shadow of his former self. Partially, he wasn’t helped by Pochettino playing with his position in the side, where he was often dropped into a deeper midfield role. Still only 24, Alli suits the ‘shadow striker’ position as a number 10. He doesn’t possess the silky skills when running with the ball like others in this position, but if he can recapture that innate ability to time his runs into the box and use his strength and pace to support the striker, England would benefit immeasurably.
England Caps: 37
England Goals: 3
Premier League Record 2019/20 – Appearances 22, Goals 8, Assists 4
An on-form Alli would be a starter, but he has others quickly overtaking him.
Up and down for England, but a strong presence – ROSS BARKLEY
I debated whether to include Barkley here, as he can play a deeper midfield role. He seems to have had ‘potential’ for so many years, but there becomes a time when that potential needs to be realised with consistency. He hasn’t seemed to find this at club level, where for Chelsea he dips in and out of the team. For England, Barkley’s performances have been reasonably good on the whole, and he possesses a strength and endeavour which some of the more ‘fancy’ players in this role don’t have. He can also play in a deeper role, which make him likely to be in the squad at least.
England Caps: 33
England Goals: 6
Premier League Record 2019/20 – Appearances 13, Goals 0, Assists 3
There are others on better club form, but his versatility give him a good chance of making the squad.
The gifted youngster with a questionable attitude – JAMES MADDISON
As a Norwich City fan, I cited that Maddison would go on to play for England about five games into his time at Carrow Road. He just had that something special about him. Possessing that ability to find space when there seemingly is none, a confidence when dribbling with the ball, and a superb range of passing, Maddison is undoubtedly a talent which England will benefit from if used correctly. However, doubts remain over his attitude and professionalism, being seen in casinos and partying in Dubai when he maybe should have known better will not overly impress Southgate. His form in his two seasons with Leicester has been generally excellent and, if his good form continues for Leicester or one of his many suitors, he could be the man to supply Harry Kane with goals in the delayed Euros.
England Caps: 1
England Goals: 0
Premier League Record 2019/20 – Appearances 28, Goals 6, Assists 3
Whether or not Maddison moves to a ‘bigger club’ he is a huge talent and offers something different, by the time 2021 comes around, he could be the main man for England.
Big club player with a real eye for goal – MASON MOUNT
Mount impressed Southgate so much that he was even involved in an England squad whilst on loan in the Championship with Derby County. It seemed it may be a bit soon, given others in this position had more premier league experience, but Mount proved himself when he burst on to the Premier League scene at the start of the 2019/20 season with several goals in the early weeks of the season. The goal tally and form has tailed off a little, and for England his performances have been typical of that of a youngster – inconsistent but with some moments of sparkle. Playing for one of the premier league big hitters helps, and next season will prove vital if Mount is to become a regular for club and country.
England Caps: 6
England goals: 1
Premier League Record 2019/20 – Appearances 29, Goals 6, Assists 4
Not so much the tricky playmaker with flair, Mount is more like his club manager Lampard, with an eye for goal when bursting into the box. The danger for Mount is Chelsea buying in players which leave him down the pecking order at club level.
A superb season and a huge talent but questions persist over behaviour – JACK GREALISH
I will be honest, I thought Grealish was overhyped until I watched him several times this season. Playing for a very poor team in Aston Villa, Grealish is their shining light, captain and really drives the team on. He possesses great skill on the ball, an ability to drift past people without having a natural burst of pace, and a strength that belies his slight frame. Grealish is yet to earn a cap for England, and his behaviour which sees him on the front pages of the tabloids as much as the back, is still holding him back. He definitely deserves a chance, and if he can build on his form next season, Southgate can’t ignore him again.
England Caps: 0
England Goals: 0
Premier League Record 2019/20 – Appearances 26, Goals 7, Assists 6
Another successful season and Grealish could be the main man. Someone with his talent needs to be in the squad.
An outsider with impressive stats on his premier league bow – TODD CANTWELL
No-one, not even Norwich fans, would have foreseen the impact Cantwell has had in the Premier League on his debut season. Let down by Norwich’s poor form overall, Cantwell has impressed through his ball retention, silky skills and eye for goal. The 22-year-old is a tall and rangy midfielder, who can play through the middle or off either flank. This summer’s Euros would have come too early. There are definitely others above him currently, but should he get a dream move to one of the clubs linked with him – Man United, Arsenal or Tottenham perhaps – he will get another chance to impress ahead of next year’s tournament.
England Caps: 0
England Goals: 0
Premier League Record 2019/20 – Appearances 29, Goals 6, Assists 2
Down the pecking order, but one of the most improved players on the list. If his form continues, he could find himself at least in Southgate’s thoughts
England’s brightest hope, blighted by chances at club level – PHIL FODEN
This may be a controversial opinion, but for me Foden is already the best and most talented player in this list. He has an ability which is beyond his years and the ball seems magnetised to his feet at times. It is perhaps hyperbolic to say he reminds me of a young Lionel Messi at times, but he is an exceptional talent. He hasn’t had the chances at Manchester City which he perhaps deserves, but in a squad full of talent, he always makes the squad. As David Silva’s departure looms, he is being talked up as his replacement and is getting more chances under Pep. He is a classic example of where the delayed tournament will help him; another year and more football at City and he will be ready to take the tournament by storm.
England Caps: 0
England Goals: 0
Premier League Record 2019/20 – Appearances 14, Goals 0, Assists 1
Give him another year, and Foden may not just be a regular for England, but a star of the tournament.
Have we missed anyone off the list? Who do you think is the best of the bunch? Leave comments below.
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