I was going to keep this at 4 parts, but there are so many wingers I want to talk about that I’ve decided to split the wingers and attackers in to two separate parts.
Also I tried writing this without mentioning the strikers name, but realised a lot of my reasoning for picking players went missing. We’re also all fully aware that I’ve picked Harry Kane. It’s hardly a secret that he’s the best striker we have.
The reason I didn’t talk about Foden previously is because I would start him on the right for England. Am I being mental playing him wide rather than central? Potentially. But just imagine Foden, Grealish, Maddison and our left midfielder all interchanging positions across the line behind the striker. It would be glorious. He has so much talent at such a young age he could easily develop in to one of the best players in the world and with wingers playing different roles to 10, 15, 20 years ago I think he is best used out wide. As he would naturally have a tendency to drift inside, he is perfect for both Alexander-Arnold, who will have the space to overlap and Harry Kane, who has recently developed his game to drop deeper in order to receive the ball. His numbers this season are fantastic- he’s behind only Sterling and Gundogan as Manchester City’s top goal scorer, and can also pick up assists with his quality final pass. England have made the mistake of dropping players in to the national team when they are too young (just look at Theo Walcott), but I think with the experience he has in the Premier League and Champions League, he is strong enough to be playing for England.
On the left, I would start Marcus Rashford. He’s really stepped up his game this season, picking up 16 goals and 9 assists- an extraordinary return- and in a similar way to Foden, will fit well with Harry Kane’s style of play. If Shaw starts at left-back, he will have familiarity down that side and will be the equivalent of Son to Harry Kane, making runs in behind to receive the ball.
Who’s the backup?
Jadon Sancho is fantastic when playing for Borussia Dortmund, but has just never done it in an England shirt. He possesses all of the attributes to be an England great, but with Dortmund’s differing style to the national team, I don’t think he fits in as well as other players. His style of play won’t allow the likes of TAA and Grealish to thrive, however he is a fantastic option of the bench when things aren’t going well to change the dynamic of the team.
Obviously, I couldn’t omit Raheem Sterling from this team as, on his day, he’s arguably the best player England have. His stats are still very strong (8 goals and 5 assists in the Premier League). And the only reason I’ve picked Foden over Sterling is that I think Sterling would struggle to play with Alexander-Arnold down the right side. They’re almost too similar, despite playing in different positions. If Wan-Bissaka were to start I would go for Sterling, so I think we’re more likely to see him in the later stages of the competition when we’re up against the stronger teams. If his productivity continues to increase throughout the rest of the season, I can certainly see him fighting for that place on either side. Leaving out both Sterling and Sancho is controversial, but based on style of play I can’t see them starting over the other 2 Manchester-based players. For the record, I do think Southgate will start Sterling. He’s an incredible footballer. But with the attacking full-backs I have included in my starting XI, I’ve opted for more “inside-forwards” in the forms of Rashford and Foden.
Who misses out?
Mason Greenwood hasn’t been the player he was last season and doesn’t get anywhere near this squad on current form. He’s in and out of the Manchester United side and hasn’t sparkled when given the chance.
I really, really, really don’t want to leave Harvey Barnes out. He is criminally underrated. He has 12 goals and 3 assists in all competitions this season- a return that few players can match. His performance against Liverpool in Leicester’s 3-1 victory was incredible. He can be such a game-changer. I’m second-guessing my “Reece James as my 23rd man” shout from part 2 and considering adding Harvey Barnes. Or maybe in place of Ward-Prowse, as Reece James can play centrally if he needs to.
Callum Hudson-Odoi has really started to pick up his form in recent weeks since overcoming his injury and had he been in this kind of form from the beginning of the season may have got a look-in, but I just don’t feel he is yet ready for the step up to the national team. He actually played as a right wingback at the weekend and did a good job.
The other option I had down was West Ham’s Jared Bowen. I really like Bowen and think he brings a lot to a team- just look at Hull City’s collapse after he left in January last season! He’s more of a wide midfielder than a winger and the reason I included him in my options is that he brings a slightly different dynamic to the team, but until he increases his goal and assist output, I don’t think he’s a serious contender for this England squad.
So I’ve gone for Foden, Rashford, Sterling and Sancho. And maybe Harvey Barnes. How definitive. That is quite simply a ridiculous selection of wingers to have. You could easily argue for any of them starting and they all have so much to offer coming off the bench. For me, this was the most difficult position to decide and if it wasn’t for my love of an inside forward, my choices would have certainly been different.