Today I’m looking at the defensive options England have for the Euros- I’ll be choosing one left back, one right back and two central defenders for the starting XI as we’re going with a 4-3-3.
Despite their being a lot of options at right-back, it’s impossible to look past Trent Alexander-Arnold. Despite struggling at times this season, he’s a world-class player who I believe has struggled more due to the fact he doesn’t have any natural centre backs alongside him, or Fabinho in that holding midfield role to cover him when he pushes forward. Yes, he can be a liability defensively at times, but at least during the group stages when we are playing against weaker sides, he will definitely be able to showcase his talents going forward.
At left-back, I’ve gone for Luke Shaw. This is my first controversial decision, but I think on current form he’s the best left-back in the league. Since Alex Telles joined United in the summer, Shaw has had real competition and has had to step up his game. After almost being pushed out of the United team entirely under Jose Mourinho, he’s shown brilliant determination to come back and turn himself in to the star we thought he would become when we saw him as a youngster at Southampton. He has 4 league assists this season- already equalling his highest output in one season.
Who’s the backup?
Our full-back positions are one of the strongest on the pitch, shown by Southgate’s use of multiple full-backs in our matches last year as well as at the World Cup in 2018. I’ve opted for Ben Chilwell on the left and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right. Ben Chilwell is an obvious pick and I think it’s highly likely Southgate will pick him over Shaw. He’s a very consistent player and is both solid defensively and a threat going forward, shown by his 2 goals and 4 assists this season. One thing to note is that since Tuchel joined Chelsea, he seems to be favouring Alonso in the left wing-back position and if that continues, I can definitely see Shaw being picked as the starting left-back.
Wan-Bissaka is a quality player, who probably hasn’t been given enough chances in the England squad. He’s more defensive-minded than the aforementioned Alexander-Arnold and will be a good option to have against stronger opponents who will look to attack us more. He has had his criticism the past over his attacking output, but has shown in recent weeks that he is much more able going forward than people give him credit for. He has 2 goals and 2 assists this season, equalling Alexander-Arnold’s direct goal contribution of 4.
When I created my shortlist, I had selected 22 players and had space for one more, with pretty much total freedom position-wise as I had cover in every position already. I managed to get it down to 2 players for that final spot and initially I had written this post and included Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. But the more I watch Reece James the more I realise he just has to be involved. He is a special, special player and is already playing at a level we thought he would reach in 4 or 5 years. Under Tuchel especially, he has looked particularly accomplished. He is capable of playing at right-back or central midfield and I think in the next few years we will see him move across in to that central role more and more.
Who misses out?
There aren’t too many other options at left-back. Bukayo Saka isn’t a natural left-back, but I’m going to talk about him here as I’ve just mentioned him. He will feel hard done by if he doesn’t go to the Euros, as he has been Arsenal’s star player this season, but with so much talent in his more natural position higher up the pitch, I can’t justify adding him in over others. As I said, he was originally in my 23-man squad ahead of Reece James, but he just (and I mean just) misses out. I hope Southgate does take him as he very much deserves to go, but I have no idea who he would omit in order to include him.
The only other option at left-back would be James Justin. Although right-footed, he is just as capable on either side of the back four and painfully unlucky to miss out. After Chilwell’s transfer to Chelsea and Ricardo Pereira’s injury, he was thrown in to the Leicester first team much sooner than expected and he has thrived. Had Luke Shaw not had a sudden upturn in form, Justin would be my choice as backup to Ben Chilwell and I think he’s one of the better players that I’ve omitted from the squad.
At right-back, we have lots of options. Kyle Walker, who is also capable of playing at centre back in a back three, hasn’t featured enough this term since Joao Cancelo has found form, playing 1200 minutes in comparison to Wan-Bissaka’s 1800 and Alexander-Arnold’s 1,666. In my eyes this isn’t enough to warrant a place at the expense of either of them.
Tariq Lamptey had a really good start to the season before getting injured and although he clearly has good potential, I think he flatters to deceive slightly, shown by his 1 goal and 1 assist.
The Central Defenders
Harry Maguire gets a lot of stick from football fans. No, he isn’t worth the £80 Million that Manchester United paid to pry him from Leicester and yes, he does have the occasional mistake in his game, but who doesn’t? He’s fantastic in the air, a good tackler and his distribution is the most underrated aspect of his game. He’s a wonderful passer of the ball, particularly to bring wide players such as Marcus Rashford in to the game. In the 3-3 draw with Everton at the weekend, he was mocked on social media for playing the opposition onside for their 95th minute equaliser. He’s prone to mistakes. There’s no doubt about that. But he is a good leader and often plays well on the international stage.
Maguire’s centre back partner is a player who, in a similar fashion to Shaw, has started to show his capabilities we saw when he was younger and again this is due to signings in his position. With the acquisitions of Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias, John Stones had to prove he deserved a place in Guardiola’s team and he’s been a vital part of the best defence in the league this season. Conceding a mere 3 goals and keeping 10 clean sheets alongside Ruben Dias, he’s beginning to show why Manchester City paid Everton £50 Million for his services in 2016. He also compliments Maguire well. He possesses more pace than the Manchester United captain, is capable in the air and strong at carrying the ball forward in the way that Franz Beckenbauer would for Bayern Munich and Germany. If that’s not a compliment I don’t know what is!
Who’s the backup?
I’ve only opted for one backup centre back and the reasons for that will be made clearer in part 3 (spoiler alert!). Although currently injured, if he can get back fit in time and get a handful of games under his belt at the end of the season, I would take Liverpool’s Joe Gomez as the third-choice centre back. He’s more naturally gifted than the other options and has played on a higher stage than the rest of the options. Alongside Virgil Van Dijk he showed last season the level he is capable of playing at and when fit is one of the most solid central defenders in the league.
Who misses out?
If Gomez isn’t fit come the start of the Euros, I would instead take Tottenham’s Eric Dier. I think Southgate will pick Dier in his team anyway, but if it were up to me, I don’t think he’s strong enough in any one position to be a starting player for England. There’s obviously something about him, shown by Jose Mourinho’s opinion of the player in Amazon’s docuseries “All or Nothing” and Southgate has always had Dier in and around his squads. I’m not saying he’s not a good player, I just think with the options England now have, particularly in midfield, he hasn’t developed enough over the past few years to be a certainty in the squad.
The other players missing out are Wolves’ Conor Coady, Villa’s Tyrone Mings, Everton’s Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey and Burnley’s pairing of James Tarkowski and Ben Mee. Mings is too much of a liability for me, Coady’s Wolves are having a torrid season, Tarkowski and Mee wouldn’t be as solid if not played together and Michael Keane, although in the mould of Harry Maguire, isn’t the player we thought he might become. I’m a big fan of Godfrey and I think he will be an England regular in the future, but for the time being I don’t think he’s quite at the level required of a team going for glory. I don’t think he gets spoken about enough when we look at potential candidates, but for me he’s one of the better options we have. There’s a lot of options at centre back for England, and I wouldn’t be averse to any of them being picked, but along with the goalkeepers I do feel it’s the weakest position for England.
So that’s it for the defence. Maguire, Stones and Gomez as our centre backs and Shaw, Chilwell, Alexander-Arnold, Wan-Bissaka and Reece James as the full backs. The options we have at both left and right back are very promising with a lot of young players coming through. Going for a Manchester United heavy back-line is certainly controversial. They have conceded the most goals of any team currently in the top 10 of the Premier League and more even than Burnley, who sit 1 place above the relegation zone. But I think with talented players like John Stones and TAA mixed in with the likes of Maguire and Shaw, there’s potential for a solid defensive-base with strong attacking prowess which could see us go far in the tournament.