- Gareth Southgate named 33-man provisional England squad for Euro 2020 last Tuesday
- Three Lions boss must cut seven names from list in time for Wednesday’s first warm-up game versus Austria
- No less than four right-backs one of possible cuts, however Southgate has pointed to versatility
ST. GEORGE’S PARK – With just days until Gareth Southgate makes his final cuts to his 33-man England squad, who will make the right-back grade for Euro 2020?
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It is now less than a fortnight until last summer’s postponed Euro 2020 begins at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on June 11, and as the best nations in Europe assemble before the competition, squads are being named across the continent.
Whilst most national teams have made either 30-man squads or have named their final squads already, England have opted to name a 33-man list, one which must now be trimmed by seven in time for the Three Lions’ first warm-up game versus Austria at Wembley on Wednesday night.
Each side allotted an extra three players due to concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, boss Gareth Southgate is now faced with perhaps the biggest decision of his England tenure, as to who will make the final grade.
Having named a total of 12 defenders in the 33, there are no less than four right-backs, from which Southgate may be forced to leave out some big names.
So what might Southgate be thinking?
Who starts vs. Croatia?
Perhaps the most pressing question the England boss must answer is which right-back is his number one starter to face Croatia at Wembley on June 13.
Selecting four full-backs for a tournament is no strange thing, but four right-backs alone, sees Southgate approaching alien territory and he will now need to answer some tough selections dilemmas.
For the time being, Kyle Walker appears most likely to be the first choice selection in that position having started three of the last four England games,
That however, leaves all three of newly-crowned La Liga winner Kieran Trippier, Reece James and man who has filled more column inches than any in the past seven days, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
In the case of both Trippier and Walker, both men were a focal part for Southgate in England’s World Cup route to the semi-finals in Russia three years ago.
Walker was deployed as right centre-back for the majority of the tournament, for which Southgate was rightly commended, and though having now moved away from a back three – largely – Walker remains a intriguing prospect in that position.
Indeed, against Iceland last November, Walker resumed his Russia 2018 role, playing behind Trippier as right centre-back, as England romped home to a 4-0 win.
Trippier’s sublime free-kick against Croatia that July night three years ago remains etched into the memories of England fans, and given Harry Maguire‘s much-documented injury concerns, Trippier could easily pick up the mantle once more, with the added experience of two seasons in Spain.
How do you solve a problem like Trent?
The rather sizeable elephant in the room remains Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool’s flying and versatile defender has not had the most sparkling of campaigns, but given his ability from set-pieces and his overall delivery from wide areas, leaving him out of the squad could be a major error.
His flexibility across the park could however, be a pivotal reason for his inclusion, with Alexander-Arnold mentioned to be in Southgate’s consideration for a converted midfield role this summer, similar to that of Germany’s Joshua Kimmich.
The fitness of the likes of Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips could offer an answer to that particular problem, and there remain concerns over the Liverpool and Leeds middle men, Alexander-Arnold could be the beneficiary.
TAA’s big point of conjecture remains his lack of nouse defensively, however, his attacking prowess greatly offsets his deficiencies in that department. But is it enough to sway Southgate?
James proven after Lisbon show
It is not only the Reds’ rather spicy ingredient to consider in the pot however. Reece James had been a rather peripheral figure for Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, but Southgate has continued to sing the Chelsea man’s praises.
Before the Champions League final, the consensus was that the Chelsea man looked most in jeopardy of not being part of Euro 2020, however, after the Blues lifted the European Cup for the second time in nine years, James has swayed many.
In Lisbon, the right-back put in a hugely impressive performance and not only kept Raheem Sterling quiet, he also subdued the threat of his other England teammate Phil Foden and rendered Kevin De Bruyne almost anonymous.
For anyone who doubted his ability at the top level, the weekend’s outing in Iberia was a gentle reminder that James is ready for the big time and ready now.
If we look at his potential as a right wing-back, a right winger and a potential midfield candidate also, James offers a huge amount for England to utilise this summer.
Could all four right-backs remain?
With everything said, all four defenders would rightly take their places in the final squad for England, which makes cutting even one out difficult. So, could all four remain after the coming cull?
For that to happen, cuts elsewhere will have to be enforced, which could see the likes of Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood‘s places under threat, as players who are – barring squad injuries – likely to have little opportunity to impress.
There is also another avenue to explore in leaving out the misfiring Marcus Rashford, but this is surely a measure few are expecting, even if his form should be questioned.
It may also force Southgate’s hand in leaving out James Ward-Prowse, with the already existing creative talents of both Mason Mount and Jack Grealish present. Ward-Prowse would the likely makeweight.
As would the surprise call-ups of Ben Godfrey and Ben White into the fold, however, Conor Coady could yet make his way into the 26, as a player who has partnered John Stones in defence of late.
The only remaining room for the trimming of personnel would then be in attack, but with both Ollie Watkins and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to make up the three strikers, Southgate’s room for manouevre begins to look tight to say the very least.
Even with those cuts stipulated, it is a nonetheless bold play to have Walker, Tripper, Alexander-Arnold and James all in the squad, potentially, to the detriment of other areas in the squad.
That is the big quandary Southgate must answer; is it too big a play to make to sacrifices in attack, to merely accommodate not having to make a call, or does he see the value in each four men as more than adequate to out-weigh the balance?
However and whichever way you approach it, his decision is going to create controversy.
The England boss, to say the least, has an interesting few days ahead of him.
England begin their Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 13 June, kick-off 1400 BST.
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