The unlucky three Euros 2020
June 11th, 2021 | Football
The Unlucky Three
Please note: The football articles that feature on this site are being written by Jack Dixon as part of his work experience. He is a teenager and looking for work experience within the football industry. He is currently studying for his media and art A-levels.
The three players unlucky not to be on the plane for England for Euros 2020
It’s rare that a 23 or in this case 26-man squad pleases everyone involved. The fans, players, pundits and coaches will all have differing opinions on who should and shouldn’t make the final cut. These differing opinions have sparked many debates amongst football fans, but to a level I haven’t seen before when discussing this current crop of England players.
For the first time in a long time, England have squad depth in nearly every position, centre-back being the area I would question. The talent and technical ability of some of the players in the squad is at a level I can’t remember England possessing. Midfield players like Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish who possess brilliant balance, ability to carry the ball, quick change of direction and an ability to control and manipulate the ball in a way that makes you think it’s attached to their boots by string, the same could be applied to the wide players in Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford. Players that whenever they get the ball make fans jump of their seats in anticipation, knowing something is going to happen. Historically with England the only players who come to my mind near this are Paul Gascoigne, Paul Scholes and David Beckham.
The hunger and desire of all the players involved in the squad cannot be questioned. I think every player involved can actually play well with the ball, something that hasn’t always been the case. You look at Kalvin Philips and Declan Rice, both defensive midfielders who can tackle and intercept, but can also carry the ball and produce a progressive pass. Harry Maguire, John Stones, Conor Coady and Ben White are all centre-backs who can defend well, but with the composure to receive the ball and play their way out.
The balance of experience and youth is, in my opinion, the best in the tournament. I think Gareth Southgate and his coaches have picked a very talented squad with a balance of defence and attack.
Southgate has picked a very good squad and one that I have no problem with whatsoever. People have their own opinions but ultimately he’s gone with a well-balanced and strong in depth squad that can afford to rotate slightly if fatigue sets in without a massive drop off in quality.
But like any squad, there are the unlucky few. The three or so players who are unfortunate not to be on the plane.
So I’ve picked my unlucky three England players, one for defence, midfield and attack.
Defender: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
The only one of my three yet to have a senior international cap to his name. Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka has enjoyed a decent season with the Red Devils. He’s shown his defensive capabilities in the wide areas by winning the ball against countless opponents when in a one-on-one situation by putting in a challenge or executing his trademark slide-tackle. He has fantastic acceleration and almost tricks the winger into thinking they’ve got more time than they have before winning the ball back and passing it to a teammate. He has, like every player got his weaknesses. His positional senses from balls into the box is poor. He tucks in to help deal with an overload if the left-back hasn’t stopped the cross and centre-backs have inexplicably been pulled out of position, the right-winger hasn’t tracked the run of the oppositions full-back or wing-back and they’ve scored because of the space left at the back-post. Look at goals scored by Brighton’s Solly March and Fulham’s Joe Bryan to see this. But that isn’t really all down to him, as that’s an issue overall with United, see Luke Thomas’s goal for Leicester City when Brandon Williams, playing at right-back, tucks in to try and cover his out of position centre-backs, although that example may be slightly unfair as it was a very rotated side.
Another thing he has often been criticised for is his limited ability on the ball, but I think he’s improved a lot this season. He often makes himself an option to pass to and looks for assured and confident on the ball. His final ball or decision needs to improve, especially with teams often concentrating on defending United’s more dangerous left-hand side of Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford and leaving Wan-Bissaka a lot of space on the right wing, with Mason Greenwood often tacking up and inside-forward position, much like Rashford on the opposite flank.
Overall his defensive ability one-on-one is superb and can’t be rivalled by any other English right-back. I believe Gareth Southgate and the other England right-backs like Trippier and Walker could help further improve Wan-Bissaka on the ball. I also think with training he could operate as a centre-back on the right of a three-man defence with the knowledge the back-post is covered by a wing-back. He can obviously play right-back but with improvements could become a very direct defensively sound wing-back, with Wan-Bissaka already possessing decent link-up play with inside-forwards like Mason Greenwood or Marcus Rashford, something I think could be emulated with England if they play a 3-4-2-1 system.
Midfielder: James Ward-Prowse
Out of all the talent to miss the plane, I think James Ward-Prowse is the unluckiest. I genuinely think he’s one of the most underrated players in the Premier League and maybe would be considered higher by fans and pundits if playing European football on a consistent basis for a bigger Club – no offence meant to Southampton. He’s a bit of throwback in terms of midfielders as he doesn’t specialise in attacking or defending, just a decent allrounder jack of all trade box-to-box player. His passing range is superb and his ability from set-pieces is, in my opinion, the best in the Premier League. His technique is Beckhamesque, the way he makes the ball curve and be right on the money nine times out of ten is incredible and his consistency of hitting the target and scoring from free-kicks is also impressive. It would have made a lot of sense to take him when you think about how many set-pieces England had in the 2018 World Cup and how many they scored. It’s even harder to understand his absence when you consider the injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold. England still have brilliant set-piece takers with the likes of Kieran Trippier, Luke Shaw and Reece James, but none of those names are as good as Ward-Prowse. I don’t think England have a player like him. Someone who can dictate the tempo of a game from a deeper midfield position with a passing-range and set-piece delivery good enough to hurt any team.
James Ward-Prowse would be in my 23-man squad, let alone 26 with two injury doubts in Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire, and the injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold. I rate Ben White and think he should have gone in place of Conor Coady or Tyrone Mings, but find it incredible that there isn’t a place for Ward-Prowse.
Attacker: Jesse Lingard
I know Jesse Lingard is classed as a midfielder for a lot of people, but in my preferred 3-4-2-1 position and even with England’s recently used 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 systems, Lingard has featured on the left or right wing, and I’m going to class that position as an ‘attacker’.
If you’d said to me in January this year that Jesse Lingard would be in real contention to go to the EUROs, I would not have believed you. This isn’t because of a lack of talent, desire and quality, but because of barely featuring for United in the first-half of this season and struggling to perform well in the last couple of seasons overall. But what a move can do for a player.
That change of scenery. That faith from the manager. The knowledge that pretty much every England, West-Ham United and Manchester United fan want you to do well. It’s all worked for him.
I was talking to a West-Ham fan in October or November of last year and mentioned Jesse Lingard as good signing for the hammers. I felt he just needed a change, somewhere with less pressure, where he’d play week in week out and be able to express himself. The fact that teams often sit back against Manchester United means there is hardly any space to play into, which is Lingard’s best attribute. Spinning into space, using his vision, shooting ability or brilliant link-up play to create a chance or score himself. That space is there when teams play against West-Ham and he’s used it brilliantly. Scoring goals, getting assists and firing the hammers into a Europa League spot.
I have a soft-spot for Jesse Lingard as a Manchester United and England fan and always want to see him expressing himself, enjoying his football and doing well for both himself and his team. I’m so happy for him that he’s been able to turn what looked like a wasted season into one where he got his first England call-up for two years. He’s played brilliantly and matured as a player taking responsibility for West-Ham in tight games by being the man who steps up and produces the decisive moment in a game to get a point or all three.
I’m a believer in taking players to tournaments who are in good form. There are a few you can risk because you know what they’ve done for you before and how good a player they are when they’re on form, but I do think having some players in form is valuable. Bukayo Saka has been brilliant for Arsenal, so I understand that inclusion, Jadon Sancho likewise for Dortmund. Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are interesting. Two fantastic players going through a rough patch of form. This is where I would have taken Jesse Lingard and left one of those two at home. Rashford could have gone over Sterling because I think Rashford’s a better finisher whilst all their other attributes are pretty much level. But then again Rashford has had a lot of injury problems with Manchester United that he’s played with throughout the season. Maybe Sterling instead of a potential injury doubt in Rashford, who is clearly not playing to his best level because of these niggling injuries, would have been a better choice.
This is a tough one for Lingard to take as he is a player who has performed for England well and done so at a major tournament, the 2018 World-Cup in Russia. The fact he got back in contention after that first-half of season where he barely played for United, not a single second of football in the Premier League, is an incredible achievement and one that has motivated me and I’m sure many others. An incredible recovery story.