Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Predicting England’s Euro 2024 squad after Jude Bellingham strikes late to earn Three Lions draw with Belgium

LONDON — For what will surely not be the last time in his career, Jude Bellingham delivered for England at the death as his 95th-minute goal secured a 2-2 draw against Belgium at Wembley. Gareth Southgate will ultimately conclude that improvements on their display in defeat to Brazil on Saturday are of more value than the result but avoiding a second defeat in four days was a moment worth celebrating with their Euros opener against Serbia just 82 days away.

Phil Foden, Bellingham and particularly Kobbie Mainoo all impressed while Ivan Toney netted his first England goal from the penalty spot but this game will serve as a warning of how diminished the Three Lions look without their first-choice defenders. After nine minutes, Southgate found himself without any of his preferred back four as John Stones caught his boot on the turf, a worrying sight for Pep Guardiola ahead of Manchester City’s clash with Arsenal on Sunday.

Stones was not the only one to suffer on the drenched turf though it would be a generous defense of Pickford to blame the turf for a woefully miscued pass upfield, intercepted by Amadou Onana, who teed up Youri Tielemans to roll the ball back past the scrambling goalkeeper.

In possession, England looked altogether more purposeful and incisive, Mainoo drawing pressure from the Belgium midfield before slipping the ball on to Bellingham. His through pass was perfectly weighted to draw the loose challenge from Jan Vertonghen on Toney, who sent Mats Selz the wrong way from 12 yards out.

The game looked to be in English hands but Dunk struggled to deal with a ball into the sodden channel as impressively as Romelu Lukaku, whose trivela cross demanded Tielemans head home to restore Belgium’s lead on 36 minutes.

Though neither Southgate nor Domenico Tedesco rushed to rotate their side in the second half, the game was still meandering towards a low-intensity finish typical of any friendly played just before the business end of the season. Still, England upped the intensity in the dying minutes, drawing fine blocks from Wout Faes and Vertonghen before the ball dropped to Bellingham in the box when Pickford’s deep free kick was kept alive by Ollie Watkins and James Maddison. The finish was precise, the response remarkably exuberant given how Wembley had long since begun to empty. Both players and manager seemed to realize they could do without two defeats with Euro 2024 so near.

Predicting England’s squad

Write down your locks for this England squad and you’ll swiftly find yourself with little more than half a dozen spaces to fill. Southgate has his favorites and while that may infuriate a particularly vocal subsection online, the likes of Harry Maguire and Pickford tend to justify their backing in the games that really matter. If there is one veteran who might have a fight on his hands it is Jordan Henderson, who missed both friendlies through injury. It would take a brave man, perhaps even foolhardy one, not to take Mainoo when he so impressed on the sodden Wembley turf. Conor Gallagher is another valued part of the England setup, it might just be that he makes it as an option to play alongside Rice and with Henderson as a backup for Tuesday night’s captain.

Perhaps the most intriguing dilemma comes at left back. Southgate has already admitted that he is not expecting Luke Shaw to be fit enough to play all seven games at the Euros, it may not take much of a setback for the Manchester United man to be ruled out. That Ben Chilwell kept his place even after a trying night against Brazil would suggest that the manager’s mind is made up on a starter. Taking Joe Gomez and Kieran Trippier would offer cover across the backline, the Liverpool man in particular an option at center back and both full back positions.

Dunk might have been able to nail down a center back spot behind Maguire and Stones but he hardly radiated authority against Lukaku, even aside from his error. Both Tyrone Mings and Marc Guehi should return from injury before the season is out, but given that the former has not played since the opening day, it may be that he does not have enough time to force his way back into contention.

Really, Southgate is just preening around the fringes of his squad but one of his most significant decisions might be the backup to Kane, assuming there is just one and Rashford functions as the third option at center forward, though his spot is certainly not a given. Watkins and Toney are both great options to have in that spot, the Aston Villa man perhaps more able to play alongside the captain and take minutes on the wing. Toney looked particularly impressive against Belgium and perhaps merits a spot because he is so different to the rest of the field: the archetypal big man it’s always good to have in case of emergencies but also one who can run the channels and takes a mean penalty.

Then there are the forward options. Rashford will need to sustain his recent upswing to hold off a cavalcade of rivals. Cole Palmer has carried Chelsea on his back this season, Jarrod Bowen looked lively against Belgium while in years gone by no one would sniff at Anthony Gordon. All that and we haven’t even got to Jack Grealish, Eberechi Eze, Mason Mount, Dominic Solanke or Raheem Sterling. At most two of them can go, dependent on whether Southgate feels his squad has enough cover for Rice. You could perform a similar exercise at right back or even in central midfield. We haven’t mentioned Curtis Jones once. This is the greatest display of embarrassing wealth since the Bluth family.

With that will come expectations, whoever Southgate turns to. This will be a squad with a significant number of high-grade starters, options that can allow England to tailor their game to the opposition (as much as possible in an international game that tends to be tactics optional) and the depth to change the course of a tournament off the bench. Here’s our pick of 23:

Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), James Trafford (Burnley)

Defenders: Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Joe Gomez (Liverpool)

Midfielders: Declan Rice (Arsenal), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Kobbie Mainoo (Manchester United), James Maddison (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Ajax)

Forwards: Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Ivan Toney (Brentford), Cole Palmer (Chelsea)

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