WITH England now assured of their place at Euro 2016, Quays News reporter Adam Higgins picks his 23-man squad if the tournament was to be staged now and players were free of injury.
After becoming the first nation besides hosts France to book their place at Euro 2016, England can now look ahead to the tournament with a greater degree of certainty.
Having been granted an easy passage in qualifying Group E, their participation next summer was scarcely in doubt and, with two games to play, Roy Hodgson’s men still boast a 100 per cent record of eight wins from eight.
Preparations have already begun in finding a training base in the western town of Chantilly and arranging high-profile friendlies against the likes of Spain, Holland and world champions Germany in the coming months.
But the debate that will rage on is which players will be taking to the plane in June as the chosen ones hoping to do their country proud and right the wrongs of the disastrous group-stage exit at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Even after the routine dismissal of minnows San Marino and comfortable win over Switzerland during the September international window, it remains difficult to finalise a definitive 23-man squad with a number of players impressing and some still battling back to full fitness.
Joe Hart (Manchester City): A straightforward pick as England’s number one keeper, a mantle he has held since the disastrous 2010 World Cup episode for Robert Green against the USA and the fazing out of David James. The City custodian established himself at the last Euros in 2012 and is the Premier League’s safest pair of hands having picked up the Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets in the past four seasons. A definite on the plane.
Jack Butland (Stoke City): He may only be 22 years old but the former Birmingham keeper has plenty of experience under his belt in the Football League and in tournaments, including the Under-21 championships in the Czech Republic over the summer. After some dependable displays since replacing Asmir Begovic as Mark Hughes’s first-choice in goal for the Potters, Butland will hope he can get some game time in the upcoming friendlies to prove his worth as an able deputy to Hart. Second in line to the gloves.
Fraser Forster (Southampton): After arriving from Scottish champions Celtic as Britain’s most expensive keeper to boost his English credentials, the Saints stopper made an instant impression behind a mean defence last term with only Hart (14) keeping more clean sheets than his 13 in the Premier League. But, with a serious knee injury sustained in March expected to keep him sidelined until the spring, the 27-year-old may find himself down in the pecking order upon his return. His reputation as one of the finest shot-stoppers and penalty-box commanders, though, makes him worthy of at least a back-up place.
Who’s missing: John Ruddy (Norwich City), Tom Heaton (Burnley), Ben Foster (West Bromwich Albion), Robert Green (QPR).
Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool): Having made the familiar switch from the south coast to Merseyside in the summer, the 24-year-old is now an established regular for both England and Liverpool despite only making his international debut against Slovenia last November. A dynamic full-back blessed with natural pace and attacking instincts, the ex-Crystal Palace man will be tailor made for the rigours of major tournament football and is a must on the plane to France.
Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur): The 25-year-old has endured a shaky start to the campaign – stemming from his own goal on the opening weekend at Old Trafford – but can still be counted upon to fulfill the marauding duties expected of a full-back comfortable on either flank to a high standard. Having been overtaken by Clyne in Hodgson’s thinking, Walker may be sacrificed for another attacking option with Chris Smalling and John Stones equally adept at right-back but can still be one of the best in the business on his day and should make the cut.
Chris Smalling (Manchester United): Not only has the former Fulham defender gone up in Louis van Gaal’s estimations after being named United’s third captain but also in the England reckoning having featured in seven of the 11 internationals since the 2014 World Cup. Smalling has rapidly grown into a powerful and solid presence and has excelled at the start of the season. A second major international tournament for the 25-year-old, who remarkably was still playing non-league football with Maidstone United eight years ago, seems inevitable barring injury.
John Stones (Everton): Following an unsettled summer of speculation involving a protracted move to the Premier League champions Chelsea, the 21-year-old has admirably focused on turning out for the Toffees and put in an assured display against San Marino, albeit with little defending to do. Stones, who pulled out of the Under-21s tournament in June through injury, was on the standby list for the World Cup and has only six senior caps to his name but the up-and-coming prospect will hugely benefit from being around the squad in France and playing regularly at Goodison Park. More than capable of making a defensive position his own.
Stones, Barkley & of course Oxlade-Chamberlain the future of England. Add in Sterling & this foursome is where our hopes lie.
— Whitehouse Address (@The_W_Address) September 5, 2015
Phil Jagielka (Everton): Another experienced member of an England defence which has come on leaps and bounds in the last 12 months. The 33-year-old Toffees captain, who has a tendency of popping up with eye-catching goals, is a commanding presence at the back and has almost 40 caps under his belt. The Euros may represent his final hurrah in an England shirt having figured at the previous two tournaments but the services he offers – not least his versatility – make Jagielka an obvious pick.
Gary Cahill (Chelsea): Regarded by many as England’s best defender at present, the Three Lions’ rearguard will be built around their vice-captain at next summer’s tournament – which will be his first Euros. A vital bedrock with masses of experience, the 29-year-old has thrived in playing alongside John Terry in Jose Mourinho’s settled back-four and can pass on his considerable knowledge to the younger players around him.
Luke Shaw (Manchester United): After being surprisingly named in England’s World Cup squad, Shaw had an indifferent debut campaign at Old Trafford but, having missed the Under-21s venture to Czech Republic through injury, the 20-year-old has illustrated his vast improvement with an impressive start to 2015-16 for club and country and is quickly shrugging off his competitors for the left-back berth almost as easily as his on-field opponents with his durable strength and stamina.
Leighton Baines (Everton): Having ousted Ashley Cole as England’s primary choice at left-back, Baines faces a tough battle to prolong his international career with competition for his place coming from all angles. But the 30-year-old, the second-highest defensive scorer in Premier League history after Terry, still has plenty to offer with his set-pieces second to none and is another experienced head with three international tournaments already on his CV. Should he shake off his ongoing injury concerns, Baines will offer a safe option worth taking.
Who’s missing: Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton).
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal): Having been beset by a series of lengthy injury lay-offs, the 23-year-old’s progress has often been disrupted including when he was ruled out of Euro 2012 but, with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard now out of the international picture, the Gunners maestro has an opportunity to fulfill his maximum potential for England. After netting his first two goals in his 28th cap against Slovenia, Wilshere showed his ability to occupy a more offensive role. If he can maintain full fitness, his creative spark, slaloming runs and eye for a pass will be much needed to unlock defences at Euro 2016.
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool): The 25-year-old may have inherited Gerrard’s armband in becoming Liverpool’s new skipper but he has also taken over his place at the heart of England’s midfield. Contributing his fair share of goals and assists and bringing bundles of energy to the team, Henderson continues to make excellent strides and his importance to a balanced side cannot be understated. Comfortable in protecting the back four or providing a defensive option on either side of a three, his third international tournament at senior level could be the one he flourishes at.
Ross Barkley (Everton): Many argue that Barkley has not kicked on since first bursting onto the scene but the 21-year-old, fancied by others as the next Paul Gascoigne and often likened to Wayne Rooney, has illustrated in flashes why there is so much fuss surrounding his supreme talent. A bit-part player at the World Cup, Barkley’s first England goal against San Marino last week combined with a fine start to Everton’s season may act as the launchpad for him to prove to Hodgson he has what it takes to be the difference in France.
James Milner (Liverpool): Often known as ‘Mr Dependable’ and widely recognised as one of the few all-round midfielders around, the versatile 29-year-old has been involved at three international tournaments, bringing his key qualities of tenacity and discipline to the England midfield since his debut in 2009. The new Reds vice-captain, who left the Etihad Stadium for regular football in central midfield, is finally establishing himself in a position in which he can dictate the tempo of games. One that can be relied upon to give everything for the cause in France.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal): The Gunners forward endeared himself to England supporters with his Euro qualifying hat-trick in Zagreb in 2008 after being called up to the 2006 World Cup as a largely unknown quantity by Sven Goran Eriksson. With blistering pace and a clinical finish to boot, Walcott can be the source of all danger to any defender and will want to make up for missing a second World Cup through injury by firing Arsenal to glory and booking his spot on the plane. The 26-year-old, one of the fastest Premier League players, could operate as either a winger or central striker thus giving Hodgson several options to play with.
Fabien Delph (Manchester City): The former Aston Villa captain has suffered an injury-ravaged start to his City career and lasted all of 20 seconds against Switzerland at Wembley, however, the 25-year-old has made a positive impression throughout the qualifying campaign. As one of the central midfielders under threat of being omitted, Delph will need to up his game and replicate the inspirational displays of his Villa days when he eventually leaves the treatment room. Finding a place in the City team is the first obstacle awaiting him but his tough-tackling and strong running would be a useful asset to England next summer.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal): After being thrust into action to everyone’s surprise for the Euro 2012 opener against France, the multi-talented midfielder will undoubtedly play a pivotal part in England’s chances of making an impact in France four years on having become a favourite of Hodgson’s. The 22-year-old, who sat out the World Cup with damaged knee ligaments, has enjoyed success in the last two years with Arsenal and will hope to further his reputation as a pacey and direct player in the coming months. Nailed on to be selected.
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City): As Britain’s most expensive player at a staggering £49 million, the 20-year-old made a start in proving his hefty price tag when opening his account before the international break against Watford. Now, the former Liverpool winger will be hoping to chip in with more goals for his country with just one to his name so far. Having been the only real bright spark in Brazil, he has already shown he will not go missing on the big stage when it matters most.
Who’s missing: Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea City), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Andros Townsend (Tottenham), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Ryan Mason (Tottenham).
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United): There have been question marks surrounding whether Rooney is good enough to play as a number nine and score goals for United this season, especially with their depleted attacking options, however, a successful international break resulted in him becoming England’s all-time record goal-scorer with a half-century. He is within touching distance of becoming Manchester United’s all-time record goal-scorer and the near 30-year-old remains England’s best hope and greatest player. Barring injury, the skipper, who is the most-capped player in the current squad, is guaranteed a seat on the place.
Pleased for Rooney. England's greatest of all time? No, nobody is saying that. But his international record merits more respect than it gets
— Oliver Kay (@OliverKayTimes) September 8, 2015
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur): After notching 31 goals in a fantastic 2014-15 season and becoming Spurs’ first-choice striker with the number 10 jersey, the expectation around Kane overcoming second season syndrome has increased dramatically. Despite a slow start to the new Premier League season and failure at the U21 Euros tournament, the international break has brought him renewed confidence with two goals in two games, taking his overall tally to three. Next summer would be his first major international tournament at senior level and another successful season in front of goal at White Hart Lane would surely secure him that chance.
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal): After sealing a £16 million switch from boyhood club Manchester United to Arsenal, Welbeck’s first season cannot be considered a success. Despite moments of inspiration such as a UEFA Champions League hat-trick against Galatasaray and FA Cup quarter-final winner at Old Trafford, he lacked consistency for the Gunners. Despite this, he is one of Roy Hodgson’s favourite players and started qualifying with four goals in three games. He has a respectable 16 England goals and always seems to play well for his country, which could go in his favour as, at club level, he has rarely produced his best. Also, finding himself behind Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud & Alexis Sanchez in Arsene Wenger’s pecking order, and recently being ruled out since Christmas, the 25-year-old certainly faces a fight to be in the 23-man-party.
Disappointed for Welbeck. Always performs for England. Injuries to he, Sturridge, Austin being in Championship, limit Hodgson's options #AFC
— Declan Warrington (@decwarrington) September 3, 2015
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool): After his sensational 2013-14 season, which saw him hit 25 goals and form a lethal partnership with Luis Suarez which almost brought Liverpool the league title, everything has been downhill for the former Chelsea man. Having been injured in the 2-0 qualifying victory against Switzerland in Basel, he missed the majority of last season and a fresh pre-season injury has seen him miss most of this so far. Like Welbeck, Sturridge has been unlucky with injuries, but he has competition when he returns to fitness for club and country from the likes of Christian Benteke, Danny Ings, Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Charlie Austin. Having barely featured in the past 15 months, this season is key for the Liverpool frontman when he returns if he is to avoid seeing his Euro dreams torn to shreds.
Who’s missing: Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Charlie Austin (QPR), Danny Ings (Liverpool), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion), Rickie Lambert (West Bromwich Albion).