Thursday, June 17

Sterling’s form and Henderson’s aptitude pose dilemmas for Gareth Southgate | England

The enigma of the right side

Gareth Southgate has avoided a major problem before the tournament, and has offered his critics a stick with which to beat him, by selecting the very popular Trent Alexander – Arnold. The coach has included him, he says, because the 22-year-old is one of the nation’s top 26 players and not because he has been swayed by public opinion. Southgate doesn’t mind that he has three other right backs, all of whom have had stellar seasons and appear to be ahead of Alexander-Arnold in the pecking order. Southgate pointed out that Kieran Trippier could play as a full-back, Reece James to the right of a central defender and a full-back, and Kyle Walker the same or even a left-back. James has even entered Chelsea’s midfield. Flexibility is the key. Alexander-Arnold is simply a great option, although how it will get minutes remains to be seen.

Maguire and Henderson Leadership

Nothing Southgate said about Harry Maguire, who injured his ankle ligaments with Manchester United at Aston Villa on May 9 and has not played since, made it appear that the middle half would be available for the opening game of Euro 2020 against Croatia or, indeed, the rest of the group stage. The same was generally true for Jordan Henderson, who has not appeared since late February and underwent groin surgery, although the midfielder appears to be further along in his rehabilitation; Henderson could get minutes in the friendly against Austria on Wednesday night. It was about them having the “possibility” to participate in the final and, if they did not “arrive”, there was coverage in a team of 26 men. What shined through, however, was Southgate’s desire to be able to build on their leadership off the field, as this is a relatively inexperienced group. Only nine of the squad have more than 25 international matches.

Going back three?

Maguire’s likely absence from part of the tournament raises the possibility of Southgate playing safer at the rear with a reversal to three central defenders. The coach had used the system for most of the season only to go with four in the three games in March. If Henderson was lacking in front of defense, he could further sway Southgate into wanting more security. Again, flexibility is vital and it wouldn’t be a problem for Southgate, who always wants to be tough to beat in the first place. “A lot of the patterns in our attacking game, in particular, are the same whether we play a three or a four,” he said. “We still have the same combinations, the same types of races. It’s just different staff that end up in those positions. So it’s not really as important to us as people might feel. “

Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham shoots on goal in the Bundesliga.  Gareth Southgate has described it as a phenomenon.
Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham shoots on goal in the Bundesliga. Gareth Southgate has described it as a phenomenon. Photograph: Ina Fassbender / Reuters

Central midfielders ready to push yourself

It’s curious that Southgate has as many right-backs as central midfielders. It is true that Mason Mount can operate as one of 8 in a 4-3-3 formation, but the coach is reluctant to use him in a midfield two in a 3-4-3. Southgate has made it clear that he sees Phil Foden and Jack Grealish competing for wide attacking spots, and Bukayo Saka has also been included as a forward. And so step forward Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Jude Bellingham. And a Henderson somewhat below match fitness. The team’s engine room faces great stress and that’s why there was surprise at the omission of James Ward-Prowse, who had felt like a safe pick in March. Southgate described the 17-year-old Bellingham as a “phenomenon” who had earned his inclusion with his Champions League displays for Borussia Dortmund against Sevilla and Manchester City.

Rashford and Sterling’s struggles

Arguably the biggest dilemma for Southgate concerns Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, who, as recently as the March internationals, were considered his first-choice picks in the wide positions up front. Southgate likes to use his pace to stretch opposing defenses, particularly with Harry Kane sometimes backing away to pick passes, and he values ​​his productivity in front of goal. The problem is that they have lost their best form and, in Rashford’s case, also their peak physical condition; The Manchester United player has had foot and shoulder problems for some time. Rashford’s numbers have fallen since the turn of the year, but the biggest problem has been the lack of spark in many of his performances, while Sterling has endured a difficult time at Manchester City, scoring only once since late February. and losing his place during some of the games. the most important games of the team. He began the final Champions League loss to Chelsea when he struggled to make an impact.

Sancho in shape could be a wild card

Jadon Sancho has felt like a peripheral figure in England’s set-up this season. Having started against Iceland and Denmark in September, the Dortmund winger was eliminated after violating Covid rules to attend a surprise birthday party for Tammy Abraham in October. Although he started and scored against the Republic of Ireland in November, he has otherwise been used as a late substitute and missed international matches in March due to a muscle problem. It was one that kept him out for seven weeks but, since his return at the end of April, he has been in top form, helping lead Dortmund to an unlikely top-four finish and lighting up the German Cup final, scoring two goals. in the 4-1 win against RB Leipzig. Sancho had been fine from the turn of the year until the injury – his focus seemed sharper – and he’s picked up where he left off; an important tonic for Southgate.

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