Gareth Southgate faces welcome dilemma as England stars vie for places in Euro 2020 squad | Football | Sport


The hard work starts now. That is the mantra that international managers invariably trot out once they have completed successful qualifying campaigns.

And that is certainly true of Gareth Southgate. The England coach has some big decisions to make before he names his final 23 for the Euro 2020 finals on June 2 next year.

Sunday night’s awkward final game in Kosovo was a dead rubber thanks to England’s 7-0 win over Montenegro on Thursday, which ensured qualification and top place in Group A.

But the edgy, though in the end comfortable, 4-0 win in Pristina only served to further reveal some of the dilemmas that Southgate faces – and the options that have emerged.

This campaign has seen that squad change more than people might at first have realised. The team which lost the World Cup semi-final to Croatia back in July 2018 was, in a 3-4-3 formation: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Henderson, Lingard, Young; Sterling, Kane, Alli. Marcus Rashford, Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Jamie Vardy were all on the bench.

The team which is likely to take the field at Wembley next June is likely to look very different – and even different from the defeat by Holland in the Nations League semi-finals last June.

There has been the odd blip in this campaign – the 2-1 defeat to the Czech Republic in Prague the main one, conceding three goals at Southampton to a lively Kosovo another wobbly moment, but Southgate’s team recovered to win that one 5-3.

But in the main it was been a progression, as have the last five qualifying campaigns for major tournaments before that. In which England have lost just one game, before the loss in Prague.

However, of the 23-man squad named for the final game of the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign, a 1-0 win in Lithuania in October 2017, only 14 made it to the finals. A lot can change in the next seven months.

As ever, players have emerged in this campaign that few would have expected to figure at the start – notably Tottenham’s Harry Winks, the Chelsea quartet of Mason Mount (who scored his first England goal), Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Callum Hudson-Odoi – who had a quiet game on Sunday night – Leicester’s James Maddison, and Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings. All, barring injury and a dramatic loss of form are making cases to be in that final 23.

But what now of Kyle Walker, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli or Fabian Delph? The former has been dropped by Southgate who has excellent and in form options at right back. And Alli and Lingard’s form at club and international level has dipped alarmingly. Delph’s injury problems have not helped him. All could be under threat.

Winks started his third successive England game on Sunday night in Kosovo, scored an excellent first senior goal and even though the 23-year-old currently cannot get in the Tottenham team, his performances for Southgate have been massively impressive. That holding midfield role is looking like it may well be hard to prise off him.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his second start in a row after an impressive comeback against Montenegro and did well in a different 4-1-4-1 formation – and then there is Ruben Loftus-Cheek, set to be back in action for Chelsea before Christmas and if he can stay fit, certain to figure, as he is a player that Southgate likes.

Nick Pope made his first start in goal and performed well, and with doubts over Tom Heaton’s fitness, he now looks favourite to be Jason Pickford’s back-up next summer.

After the romp against Montenegro, this was a tougher test, but Winks’ neatly-taken goal from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pass settled England down. It was not vintage stuff, and that defending from set pieces needs working on still – but Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Mount’s late goals made it a comfortable night in the end.

Now – the chance for some to push for a late place in that 23. And for some to reclaim theirs.

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