Warm up games, Squad selection, England v Croatia
England head into their Euro 2020 opener of the back of two unconvincing 1-0 wins against Austria and Romania but what have preparations really told us?
Timid in defence and shot of ideas in attack, the balance of the team doesn’t seem to be clicking on the eve of a major tournament but with several key players missing from Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City due to their European final commitments these warm up games were always going to pose an unrealistic element to England’s preparations for the tournament.
Although, there has been some stand out performances across the two games. Bakayo Saka grabbed his first England goal in the Austria game and looked sharp down England’s left, justifying his selection.
17-year-old Jude Bellingham’s meteoric rise is incredible but every time he steps on the pitch be it for Dortmund in a Champions League quater final or a 20-minute cameo against Romania in England’s final warm up game, the teenager impresses. Full of energy, demanding of the ball and what is most impressive is his aura he possesses on and off the field, kicking it with the big boys and knows he deserves to be there. With Henderson a doubt for Sunday’s opener, could it be Bellingham who slots into midfield in his place?
With Maguire’s involvement in the tournament looking further in doubt and Alexander-Arnold withdrawing through injury leaving the 26th spot open, it was a chance for Godfrey and White to show why they should be taken and for Mings or Coady it was an opportunity to bat of any competition for the central defensive spot that will almost certainly be up for grabs come Sunday.
However, Mings and Coady’s unconvincing display against Austria raised further questions around Gareth’s selection of the pair leaving England fans sat scratching their heads as to who is going to fill that space left by Maguire. In England’s second warm up game it was a pairing of White and Mings at the back while Godfrey was deployed at right back ultimately in absence of Alexander-Arnold. Mings once more showed his frailties with a loose display, one that I’m sure won’t fill Gareth with confidence. However, his partner White, who played CDM in a 3-5-2 late on against Austria, went about his work in a mature, calm manner. An Impressive play from the 23-year-old, who’s journey to this point has been one of English pyramid success story epitome.
After Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury drop out, there left a shirt up for grabs, sparking huge debate to who would take the number 22 shirt. Southampton’s ever present James Ward-Prowse seemed to be at the top of many peoples list with his wicked set pieces a key component to the hype after he provided eight goals and seven assists for a Southampton side whose form fluctuated throughout the season.
After England’s 2018 World Cup success was built of set pieces with nine out of 11 goals coming from set pieces be it penalty, free kick, or corner, Ward-Prowse seemed the perfect man to take that last shirt and book his place in the squad. However, despite showing his abilities in both warmup games, he was ultimately overlooked.
On Monday it was announced that defender Ben White would replace Alexander-Arnold in Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad showing further worry into the participation of Harry Maguire for the three lions this summer. A deserved call up an impressive first season in the Premier League as well clearly impressing behind the scenes in the England camp. His versatility, ability on the ball and defensive capabilities could prove for White to be a useful player this summer.
As England prepare for the devil of the 2018 World Cup on Sunday, we should remember that it was England who took the win the last time the two-side met in November 2018. That day in the inaugural Nations League, England clinched the win with a goal five minute from time by Harry Kane, sending England on their way to the UEFA Nations League finals.
The Croatians are in a similar place to 2018 with the likes of Perišić, Modric, and Vida all still playing key roles in the side. Caleta Car the sort after 24-year-old Marseille defender looks set to play in the heart of defence while Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic will more than likely Modric and Brozovic in a stern midfield. The Croatians will be no push over that’s for sure as England look set to have a difficult opener.
With many questions still be answered in the England camp there looks to be an uncertain few days ahead but will Gareth get his selection right? We’ll have to see come 4 o’clock on Sunday.