5 ways Gareth Southgate can use Euro 2020 postponement to England's advantage
No one wanted to see the postponement of Euro 2020 until June 2021, but with the global extent of coronavirus – and how long societies will be kept in lockdown – still unknown, UEFA had little option.
From a purely footballing perspective, though, there could be some good from the delay for the Three Lions. Here are five things England manager Gareth Southgate should use the extra 12 months to focus on, and use this year to his advantage.
1. The return of Kane and Rashford
If there’s one thing we learnt from England’s unexpected run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018, it was this: frontline good, defence not so good.
Golden boot winner Harry Kane was absolutely vital to England’s strong performance in Russia, shouldering much of the goalscoring burden with his aerial prowess and precision from the penalty spot. A long-term tendon injury was likely to rule him out this summer, however, leaving England without their captain and arguably their only truly world class player.
It’s possible England could have scraped by had it not been for an injury to another star forward, Marcus Rashford. The Manchester United attacker had been enjoying a best-ever campaign for the Red Devils and would have relished the chance to lead England’s line in Kane’s absence.
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But a serious back injury sustained in January also put his selection under threat, leaving England with a lack of quality striking options this summer. Southgate now has time on his side. Get Kane and Rashford fit in time for next summer's rescheduled spectacle, and the Three Lions might just bring it home.
2. Sort out the goalkeeping issue
Jordan Pickford? Nick Pope? Dean Henderson? Rob Green, anyone?
England went into Russia 2018 with a clear No.1 in Jordan Pickford, but a turbulent season between the posts for Everton had led to calls for him to lose his place this summer. Those penalty heroics against Colombia are now a distant memory, it seems. Southgate remains a fan of the 26-year old, but would have taken note of his erratic displays since the beginning of last campaign.
Burnley’s Nick Pope, meanwhile, is one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League and one of the strongest around when coming off his line to catch. He has his admirers, but seems to lack the calm distribution Pickford has shown since winning the England jersey in 2017. Henderson remains a talented but untested option.
All three now have the time to show Southgate why they deserve to be England’s last line of defence in the Euros. Southgate will be hoping to see much improvement from his Pickford, iat the very least.
3. Settle on a midfield
Long gone are the days when England were forced to shoe-horn world-class talent on the wings due to a wealth of midfield quality.
Nowadays, it’s tricky to even fill a potential engine room beyond Jordan Henderson, and what about the talent which hasn’t yet been given a chance to prove itself?
The excellent form of Jack Grealish deserves to be rewarded between now and next summer. It had seemed as if this tournament might have come just too soon for the likes of the Villa talisman and Phil Foden, who was only recently beginning to get a run of games for Manchester City, but now Southgate has no excuse.
Delli Alli, Eric Dier and Jesse Lingard have all struggled with form this season, while the England boss remains uncertain on Harry Winks, Mason Mount and James Maddison. Talk of moving Trent Alexander-Arnold into midfield has also grown louder throughout the season, but what would that mean for Declan Rice?
The pieces are there, but England need time to work out how they fit together. Southgate has that now.
4. Blood some more youngsters
After decades of systematic failure on the youth development front (if you don’t believe us, just have a look at the lineups in the 2009 U21 European Championship final), England finally have a silly amount of young talent coming through.
The likes of Reece James at Chelsea, Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood of Manchester United and Bukayo Saka at Arsenal are all young players who - just like Grealish - have shone for their clubs this campaign but are yet to receive an international call-up.
Meanwhile, Lewis Cook, Fikayo Tomori and James Maddison have only one cap each despite becoming crucial members for their clubs this campaign.
Southgate’s squad remains an unfinished article, there is time for one of these phenomenal young talents to show they're the final piece of the jigsaw.
5. Build experience
England had the second youngest squad in Russia and were the greenest in terms of international experience, with an average of just 20 caps across the squad. Gary Cahill’s 60 appearances - we don't know, either - boosted that figure drastically, might we add.
The fact Southgate’s squad did so well is proof that age isn’t always a defining factor but any expert will tell you experience plays a huge role in international football, especially in the latter stages of tournaments where the stakes are sky-high.
England remain a raw side to this day - especially once you factor in the additions of Jadon Sancho, who was yet to feature regularly for Borussia Dortmund two years ago, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who must surely be a mandatory pick now.
Another year of development, representing the country, winning domestic titles and training together should do this England side the world of good.
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