A brief look into England’s attacking options
By Shaquille Morgan
Last month’s World Cup qualifiers saw England take nine points from three games. Beating San Marino 5-0, and then scoring twice in both games against Albania and Poland, in these games its quite clear Gareth Southgate is experimenting in preparation for this summer’s European Championships. At the previous international tournament, we saw England deploy an accustom 3-4-3 system however during the World Cup qualifiers, England set up in a back four system. This system arguably suits their vast plethora of attacking midfielders and wide forwards more so, it would fit an extra attacking player over a defender, and these players, some of whom were not selected due to injury, meaning more options are available in the 23-man squad.
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Although there has been concerns over Southgate’s pragmatic and risk-free style of football, there are rumours of how there may be less defenders in the upcoming 23-man squad than there were for the 2018 World Cup. During a time where England are boasting some of the most technically able players, Southgate is clearly shifting his ideal 23-man squad towards that direction of technicality and athleticism.
But in the meantime, here is a brief assessment of England’s attacking options
England had seven attacking-oriented players in their squad for the recent World Cup qualifiers. Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, and Mason Mount, who are regular starters under Southgate, the emerging Phil Foden, a third call-up for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a first senior cap for Ollie Watkins, and Jesse Lingard who was recalled for the first time since 2019.
Raheem Sterling is a first name on the 23-man squad for the Euros. Sterling can be wasteful with his chances in front of goal but remains a threat with his potency in the box. And this is much due to his impressive goalscoring record for Manchester City, his off-ball runs and how he is very good at attacking space in the penalty area. He also draws fouls, as shown by winning a penalty against Poland. His ability to play on both wings, as well as centrally, makes him a versatile option for Southgate if he chooses to ditch the 3-4-3 system.
Another first name on the 23-man squad sheet is England captain, Harry Kane. Do I really need to explain this inclusion? He’s arguably one of the best strikers in the world and continues to prove why he is so crucial to Tottenham week-in, week-out. Despite Kane’s brilliance, he has suffered with recurring ankle injuries for the past 2-3 years, if England are to do anything noteworthy this Summer, they will need him to be fully fit and on form.
On the international stage, at some point you will need your players to play in multiple positions. So, it’s worth considering Chelsea’s Mason Mount. Mount could play as an inside-forward or even alongside another midfielder should Southgate continue with a 3-4-3, as the third midfielder or even further forward in a 4-3-3. Mount’s ability to evade pressure and finding small pockets of space in the final-third are valuable qualities if England choose to dominate the ball at the Euros.
Foden is another who can play on either flank, as a number 10, or as an 8 like he did on his debut against Iceland last year, and for City, Foden has at times played in a position-less role of the aforementioned role, notably in a 4-1 win against Liverpool. Foden has started on the right-side for England in last month’s qualifiers, so perhaps this is where Southgate sees Foden featuring for the side if he’s picked. Foden has incredible close control and can dribble inside onto his stronger left-foot when playing on the right.
Since moving to West Ham United on loan from Manchester United in January, Lingard has scored seven goals in eight games. West Ham play either a 3 at the back system or a 4-2-3-1, and Lingard has the ability to play wide or central. He’s shown to be key in big matches for West Ham and his parent club Manchester United. Lingard’s resurgence has been impressive however is his form good enough to warrant a place in the final squad?
Jack Grealish is arguably England’s most creative player, he has been unavailable for the past six league games due to a shin injury, but if fit, his form would certainly warrant consideration. 16 goal contribution, 10 of which are assists, and Grealish, though tends to start on the left-hand side for Aston Villa, likes to roam across the attacking-third. For me he has to be a guaranteed pick for the attacking options purely because of the quality he possesses.
Like Villa’s talisman, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford tends to start on the left-side. He was included in the most recent squad but withdrew due to injury. But when fully fit, Rashford is a very good counter-attacking player, in terms of both setting up and finishing off situations and is continuing the trend of players comfortable at interchanging positions in game and being able to start on either flank or as a centre-forward. Out of all of England’s wide options, Rashford is perhaps the most clinical in front of goal. If Rashford is fit, it would be difficult to leave him out.
Jadon Sancho is the player with the third most appearances for England since the end of the 2018 World Cup. He has been a breath of fresh air on the right-wing, and is a direct option who can attack on the outside or cut infield. His form for Borussia Dortmund had improved since the start of the season, and although injured for these recent games, it would be silly to exclude him given his importance to the team in recent times, and how comfortable he is in either a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3.
There are also more options to give Southgate a good headache. Leicester City’s James Maddison not really much of a sniff in the international set-up is just telling of just how much depth England now have in these areas. Maddison’s another playmaker who is clever between the lines, whilst also being useful from set-pieces. His teammate Harvey Barnes is very direct option on the left whose end product has much improved this season and he even earned his first cap late last year. He links up well with full-backs and midfielders. Bukayo Saka has made the right-side his own at Arsenal, but could also easily play in midfield, at wing-back or full-back, which may be seen as a swiss army knife for England.
Essentially, Southgate has a lot of decisions to make leading up to the Euros. There’s a lot of expectations to meet, but it’s clear England have a great range of talent so big omissions are to be expected.