Gareth Southgate has forbidden all talk of Euro 2024 before England’s dead rubber in North Macedonia but will be keen to maximise his final competitive fixture before next summer’s tournament, writes Daniel Zeqiri.
Fitness permitting, England have a core of players who appear certain starters in Southgate’s eyes: Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane.
The identity of the third midfielder alongside Rice and Bellingham, whether in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, is up for debate. These are five of the leading candidates.
Jordan Henderson: A Southgate stalwart and an England starter in the last three tournaments, Henderson could find himself in the team by default due to a lack of outstanding candidates. Favours the right side of the pitch, which counter-balances Bellingham nicely. Turns 34 in June, and has another six months of Saudi Pro League football as preparation. Conor Gallagher offers many of the attributes of a younger Henderson.
Kalvin Phillips: Has dovetailed nicely with Rice, and Southgate might be attracted to the idea of a true double pivot to let Bellingham off the leash. Lack of minutes for Manchester City is a concern, but circumstances could change in the January transfer window. Long-range passing is a strength but his tackling could attract attention from officious tournament referees.
Phil Foden: The preferred choice of those England fans who want Southgate to be more cavalier. Foden is precisely the profile of player England teams of old lacked, adept at receiving the ball on the half-turn in confined spaces. The notion of Foden and Bellingham as roaming ‘eights’ is alluring, but does it offer enough control and stability? As Southgate is keen to stress, Foden is rarely used centrally by Pep Guardiola.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: Rice is a world class ball-winner and Bellingham is a world class mover, so adding a world class passer to the mix makes sense. Regularly receives the ball in central midfield positions for Liverpool, but is that more effective when popping up from full-back as a spare man?
James Maddison: An outstanding start to his Tottenham Hotspur career ought to have moved him ahead of Mason Mount, and he offers the creativity England are habitually accused of lacking. Similar tactical concerns to Foden however, more so given he likes the same inside left zone as Bellingham. Also slightly prone to injury.
James Ward-Prowse, Jacob Ramsey and Sean Longstaff might feel they deserve a chance, but are very much outsiders.