Published on 24th March on betweenthelines5638.wordpress.com
Gareth Southgate needs to prepare himself for a real selection headache in the coming months as England embark on their vital preparations for this summer’s rescheduled Euro 2020 competition.Embed from Getty Images
England boast a whole wealth of attacking talents for Europe’s biggest international prize this summer and the next few months leading up his Euro 2020 squad announcement in May will provide Gareth Southgate with the solutions as to what formula will be required in order to give England the best chance of making their mark in the competition.
Based on England’s most recent encounters, Gareth Southgate has opted with the 3-4-3 formation – a system that provides solidity at the back as well as flexible and well-rounded approach going forward – as well as the customary 4-3-3 shape, a formation some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs currently use as a foundation for a possession-based approach.
The issues and questions facing Southgate, however, will be who lines up alongside Harry Kane to make up England’s attacking trio when their first game kicks off against Croatia on the 13th of June.
Based off on the season so far, two of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden may well be lining up with Harry Kane this summer, but which one? All four players have enjoyed terrific seasons at their respective clubs so far this campaign, but only two of them can be chosen, so let us try and help Gareth Southgate solve this great problem.
What do the stats show?
The majority have been calling for Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish to get a guaranteed starting spot alongside Harry Kane and if you look at his stats for the season, he is the most creative out of Gareth Southgate’s abundance of riches. With 10 assists in the Premier League in comparison to the alternative candidates, Grealish looks the more creative candidate and has continued his delightful leadership of a team which depends heavily on his services.
Since his injury against Brighton in mid-February, Villa have not looked the same without his end product. Dean Smith’s side have only won once since Grealish’s injury, against Leeds at the end of February, and it’s pretty clear Villa need their star man back if they are to challenge once again for an unprecedented European spot. Nonetheless, Grealish has already shown he can be relied on at international level too. His performance in the 2-0 defeat against Belgium was awe-inspiring, proving why he should be one of the first names on Gareth Southgate’s team sheet.
Grealish has provided 3.45 key passes and 3.32 final third passes, that is considerably more than his rivals for a starting spot this summer. For a long while, England have needed someone who is brave on the ball, and a player who likes to take the initiative when things are not going well for the team. Grealish fulfils all that in abundance, as shown in his 2.59 successful dribbles per 90 minutes. The Aston Villa superstar is amongst the top creators in Europe sitting at the same decorated table as Lionel Messi, Hakan Calhanoglu, Bruno Fernandes, Thomas Muller, and Kevin De Bruyne.
The next creative star from the above graphic, you could argue is Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho who started the season slowly but since the turn of the year has once again highlighted why he is ranked amongst the most creative wide players in Europe. Sancho has scored two more goals than Grealish but has provided one less than the Villa star, even though he has been injured for much of the second half of the campaign but yet he is arguably one of the most creative out of all of England’s creative assets. Like Aston Villa, Dortmund aren’t the same fluid and dangerous side without Sancho.
Certainly, many have purred on the devastating abilities of Erling Haaland and rightly so. Though, many forget that Jadon Sancho has assisted seven of Haaland’s goals so far this campaign which means he’s more than capable in providing for Harry Kane at the same rate for England. Sancho is a uniquely gifted forward, a player blessed with such tremendous on-the-ball skills, link-up plays but most of all, his almost telepathic understanding with strikers as deadly as Erling Haaland is just as impressive. He knows where Haaland wants the ball, and he serves it on a plate for him. So why can’t he do the same for Harry Kane? Along with his superb average of 3.71 dribbles per 90 minutes, he’s also averaged 2.89 key passes and 2.54 final third passes per 90.Embed from Getty Images
Against defences who are camped in their own half lining up in deep blocks when defending, Sancho and Grealish offer Southgate the most effective tools to breach such obstacles.
The stats clearly show Sancho and Grealish as England’s most creative outlets but none of those two provide the same rapid goal threat as Rashford and Sterling who are both performing at a similar level in front of goal in the Premier League with 0.34 and 0.39 goals per 90 respectively, which is considerably more compared to Sancho’s 0.31 goals and Grealish’s 0.27 per 90.
Ten goals in the Premier League for Rashford and nine for Sterling in the Premier League this season, and while they may not be as creative as Grealish and Sancho for their clubs – though, Rashford has registered nine assists for Manchester United – they are more reliable and trusted assets for Southgate. Both possess the pace, directness and unpredictability in their weaponry to trouble the sturdiest of defences this summer especially group rivals Croatia. Both players have proven time and time again that they hold the valid tools needed to lead England when it matters most. If there is any proof, England’s UEFA Nations League victory away to Spain in 2018 is a fine exhibition.
Many will argue, that both Rashford and Sterling complement Harry Kane better than anyone else. As seen through Kane’s prowess this campaign, his ability to drop deep and find the likes of Hueng-Min Son, Gareth Bale and Lucas Moura with some unerring raking passes could well be a unique quality which Southgate uses to some effect this summer.
Both Rashford and Sterling are players who can operate beyond Kane, in their off-the-ball movement and the ability to locate open spaces to get on the end of his through balls. It was these ruthless combination plays which pierced expertly pierced through Spain’s back-line for Raheem Sterling’s opener and Marcus Rashford’s goal which put England 2-0 up on that night in 2018.
However, we cannot forget the incredible and unique abilities of Manchester City’s star boy Phil Foden who has somewhat enjoyed a remarkable, can we say, breakthrough season in City’s stunning rise to the top of the Premier League table.
The midfielder can be placed in the same bracket as James Maddison, Mason Mount and Jesse Lingard in that they are more or less attacking midfielders rather than the more traditional wingers like Sancho, Rashford, Grealish and Sterling. However, Guardiola has utilized Foden in the front-line for City, whether as a false-nine, a wide-left winger and an inside-right forward, he can of course make a strong case for a starting spot in June.
Seven goals and five assists as well as 1.95 key passes per 90, 2.15 final third passes and 2.48 successful dribbles, Foden has flourished whenever he is tasked with the most complex of tasks under Guardiola’s instruction this season. Like Grealish and Sancho, Foden possesses the class and uniqueness to breach the most compact defences.
Foden’s two-goal performance against Iceland in November was simply superb. The bravery, courage and tenacity at which he performed both in attack and in his pressing showed even the most prestigious of international stages won’t be a step too far for him. He isn’t afraid to strut his stuff against the best of sides, though there are understandable doubts whether Southgate would throw him in from the start against Croatia. If his services are required, in the latter parts of that game or in the tournament, Foden is more than capable and reliable to make the telling difference.
Phil Foden is a gift Southgate simply cannot afford to ignore.
So, we’ve made the case for each of these incredibly talented forwards. The stats evidently show that Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho are indeed the most creative, along with Phil Foden while Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are the tried and trusted pairing, their speed and directness are just as key to Southgate’s 3-4-3 system so it will be difficult to ignore either of them. Southgate must strike a balance to find a more well-rounded and complementary approach with Kane spearheading the attack.
So why not unleash a creative outlet coupled with a more direct and pacier runner? It seems the more plausible and stable pairing. Take your pick, Gareth. No pressure.
Favoured Pairing: Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling
All stats from league games, provided by https://fbref.com/en/ and https://www.whoscored.com/