UEFA Euro 2020

England Euro 2020 preview: Key players, strengths, weaknesses and expectations

Andrew Headspeath
Jun 8, 2021, 3:00 PM GMT+1
Can England make their first ever Euros final?
Can England make their first ever Euros final? / Visionhaus/Getty Images
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England heading into a summer tournament as one of the early favourites is nothing new and normally the sort of thing that only provokes eye rolls, but is there something a little different this time around?

'It's coming home' may have been a semi-ironic refrain three years ago, but many will believe it's possible at Euro 2020.

Gareth Southgate's side is one of the most exciting at the tournament, while the World Cup semi-finalists have the added advantage of playing their group games at Wembley - where the semis and final will also be held.

Bizarre talk of Marxism aside, the squad and manager are popular with the public, and are unlikely to fall victim to the sluggishness and inhibition that has plagued the Three Lions at previous European Championships. Group games against old rivals Croatia and auld rivals Scotland mean the early stages will be riddled with narrative too.

England kick off their campaign on Sunday 13 June. Here's all you need to know about their tournament hopes.

Route to Euro 2020

It seems like ages ago (because it was), but England stormed qualifying Group A to make it to the Euros, winning seven out of eight against Czech Republic, Kosovo, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

Only Belgium (40) scored more than the Three Lions' 37, while Harry Kane was the qualifiers' top scorer with 12 goals.

Since then, England finished an underwhelming third in their Nations League group behind Belgium and Denmark, but have won their last six fixtures on the bounce including their first three 2022 World Cup qualifiers. They come into the tournament in strong, if not blistering, form.

Strengths

England have a lot of very talented attackers, which is nice
England have a lot of very talented attackers, which is nice / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

For the first time since Sven's 'Golden Generation', England have a whole host of genuinely elite players and healthy competition in a number of positions - particularly in attack.

On paper at least, Southgate's exciting, young side looks twice the team that went to the World Cup semis three years ago.

England enter the tournament with a newly-crowned Champions League winner in the form of his life (Mason Mount), Pep Guardiola's protege (Phil Foden) and of the best strikers in world football (Kane), as well as the captains of both Liverpool and Manchester United (Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire).

Having finally won a penalty shootout and gone to the final four of the World Cup and Nations League, England seem to have lost their jitters in big games and, as individuals at least, the players have the confidence to shine on the biggest of stages, especially when that stage is Wembley...

Weaknesses

Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire missed the end of United's season with injury / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Inexperience, a relatively soft core and a manager with tactical limitations.

While having a boat-load of exciting youngsters is all very nice, it means England go into the tournament with the second youngest squad. Only four of the 26-man party have more than 50 caps (Henderson, Kane, Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker), and as many as 16 are first-timers at an international tournament.

There is, then, a feeling that this England team's peak may be at World Cup 2022, or the Euros in 2024.

On top of inexperience, the Three Lions are probably a player or two light at their core. Maguire and Henderson are both recovering from injury, while centre-back and central midfield are two problem areas in the squad even with them both fully fit.

Finally, Southgate has done a sterling job as the statesman and father figure of this England team - his position on taking the knee and player activism is particularly admirable - but there are doubts over his ability as a top-level tactician.

England simply had no answer to Croatia in extra-time in 2018, and came undone in the Nations League semis against the Netherlands. Matching (and beating) 'good' teams at tournaments remains the unticked box on Southgate's check list.

Key players

Obviously captain Kane will be pivotal to England's displays this summer (hopefully he's not on corners), and England fans will hope he's not burned out after top-scoring and assisting in the Premier League in 2020/21.

Supporting Kane, Mount, Foden and Jack Grealish will all hope to play key roles. How many of the supremely talented creators can play in the starting XI at the same time is a conundrum for Southgate to answer.

The semi-fit Maguire may not be perfect by any means but he is probably England's best defender and a leader at the back. Without him to partner John Stones, there is a chance Southgate will revert to a back three for extra cover, altering the Three Lions' entire set-up.

Declan Rice is another one-of-a-kind player that England simply don't have cover for. The West Ham man is the only proper holding midfielder in the squad (though Kalvin Phillips and Henderson can play that role) and he will be key in knitting the engine room together and doing the hard graft for the flair players ahead.

Final squad

Southgate confirmed his final 26 on Monday when Trent Alexander-Arnold was replaced by Ben White.

Goalkeepers: Dean Henderson (Man Utd) Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Jordan Pickford (Everton)

Defenders: Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Man Utd), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Man Utd), John Stones (Man City), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Man City), Ben White (Brighton)

Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Dortmund), Phil Foden (Man City), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds), Declan Rice (West Ham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Jadon Sancho (Dortmund)

Forwards: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Raheem Sterling (Man City)

Predictions

After the free hit that was the 2018 World Cup, the pressure is now back on England. However, the squad is as good as it has been for some time and Southgate has attacking talent to match almost any opponent.

If Southgate can continue to harness the feel-good factor that Russia created, it could be another very fun summer, especially with fans returning to stadiums to watch England in a tournament at Wembley for the first time since 1996.

England v Holland
The last time England played a tournament on home soil Alan Shearer had hair / Ben Radford/Getty Images

That said, there's no getting away from the reality that England have an absolutely atrocious record at the Euros, and it is worth remembering that the last time they beat one of the traditional big boys in the knockout stage of any tournament was, well, you tell me...?

Getting to a first Euros final, or even just registering a knockout win against Germany/France/Portugal (England's possible last 16 opponents), would represent huge progress - as would fans respecting the players' right to take the knee.

However, the way the draw has gone means England's run after the group stage could be just too tough to bring it home.

Prediction: Quarter-finals

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