England's possible line-ups against Czech Republic: FFT writers pick who they'd start in Euro 2020 Group D decider

Jack Grealish Aston Villa England Euro 2020
(Image credit: Getty)

Usually when you play a football match, the ultimate goal [You're fired – Ed] is to win.   Yet when England (opens in new tab) host the Czech Republic (opens in new tab) at Wembley on Tuesday evening to decide who will top Euro 2020's Group D, you get the distinct impression that it wouldn't be the end of the world for either side were they to lose.

Let uncle FFT explain. Group D's winners will face the runners-up of Group F, which will likely mean one of defending champions Portugal (opens in new tab), world champions France (opens in new tab) or perennial champions Germany (opens in new tab). Whatever way you look at it, that's a tough gig.

Meanwhile, Group D's runners-up will face the winners of Group E, which could be any one of Spain, Sweden, Poland or Slovakia. Not even three-time winners Spain look all that threatening from that selection.

If England win, they top the group and it's a tough game. If they draw, the Three Lions finish second to the Czechs and it's – in theory, don't forget Iceland five years ago – an easier game. If England lose, third place should still be enough to progress.

All of which means it's actually quite difficult to predict what starting XI Gareth Southgate will select, even if it seems likely that captain Harry Kane will keep his place after looking especially leggy in Friday night's goalless draw with Scotland. Does the Three Lions boss keep faith with the players who misfired against the Tartan Army, or does he rotate and give minutes to fan favourite Jack Grealish or Borussia Dortmund (opens in new tab) flier Jadon Sancho?

Gareth, read on, this is what our writers reckon you should do...

Conor Pope (@Conorpope (opens in new tab))


(Image credit: Future)

While the four points already on the board, England are through to the knockout stage, and while a second-strength England side should be enough to beat the Czech Republic at any rate, Gareth Southgate should still be looking at what his best XI is after a less-than-thrilling start.

Harry Kane may have been underwhelming so far, but Chris Flanagan’s argument from the weekend that Marcus Rashford or Jadon Sancho start alongside him is convincing. There’s also the fact that dropping the England captain mid-tournament would overshadow everything else, and leave the team without a natural on-field leader if Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson don’t start.

Maguire may well be in the line-up – but with no goals conceded so far, the centre-back pairing of Tyrone Mings and John Stones isn’t in urgent need of breaking up should the Manchester United defender need more time.

Moving Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham into the midfield at the expense of Kalvin Phillips could help solve the lack of dynamism from the middle of the park against Scotland, while Kieran Trippier could improve the set-pieces.

Andrew Murray (@Andy_MurrayFFT (opens in new tab))


(Image credit: Future)

First of all, I'm under no illusions that this is anything close to what Southgate will actually pick, but a guy can dream, right?

Essentially, the Group D decider against the Czechs resembles something of a free-hit for England – even if they lose and finish third, their four points should be enough to ensure qualification. Kane deserves the chance to play himself into form, but needs some pace to either his left or right to offer the thrust Son Heung-min provides for the England captain for Tottenham (opens in new tab).

Southgate may doubt his experience, but Jadon Sancho has the quickness of both feet and thought to be that player. In the past three seasons for Borussia Dortmund, the 21-year-old has 77 non-penalty goals or assists. No other England player has more than Kane's 68. It's time to let Sancho off the leash.

It's a similar story with Jack Grealish. Given only 20 minutes against Scotland, when  the Aston Villa skipper seemed the perfect lock picker of a low-block defence, the attacking midfielder excelled in England's warm up fixtures and warrants a start. I'd also choose Ben Chilwell behind Grealish, taking advantage of derring-do on the overlap from left-back.

In midfield, I'd lose one of the holding midfielders. A bit harsh on Kalvin Phillips, maybe, but Declan Rice offers the all-round protection needed to allow Phil Foden and Mason Mount to roam as a pair of free eights.

At the back, Harry Maguire claims he's fit and England need his leadership, aerial ability and eye for a pass – if not his sizeable turning circle – for later in the tournament. 

Ryan Dabbs (@ryandabbs_)


(Image credit: Future)

England’s play has often been laborious in midfield. Too many players are taking too many touches, and the ball isn't getting forward quickly enough. Reverting to a 4-4-2, proper old-fashioned English style, could remedy this situation. 

Mount would be the preferred option to partner Henderson in midfield, but self-isolation makes his involvement unlikely. Therefore, Bellingham gets the nod ahead of Phillips - England are already through, so giving the 17-year-old some experience will only help him. Plus he'll provide energy next to an unfit Henderson who desperately needs minutes. And if the Liverpool man can’t play in this game then what’s the point in him being there? Rice misses out after an underwhelming couple of games.  The West Ham player has played three forward passes in 180 minutes, which simply isn’t good enough. 

Calvert-Lewin is shoe-horned in up top. Starting DCL will also help Kane, who revelled in a free-role at Tottenham as he dropped deep to provide both goals and assists aplenty. Kane needs some confidence heading into the last-16, 'resting’ him would be counterproductive. 

Sancho also deserves to start, why he hasn’t featured yet only Southgate will know. The Dortmund winger offers some attacking impetus both Foden and Sterling have failed to show so far, while Grealish has to play. Plain and simple. 

Finally, Southgate should recall Walker for right-back. How he was left out of the squad against Scotland entirely is baffling. Maguire also comes into the back four because he needs some minutes before the knockout stages - without him England will struggle in the latter rounds. 

Ed McCambridge (@edmccambridge (opens in new tab))


(Image credit: Future)

We're edging closer to the business end of the tournament now, and it's time to pick a settled eleven. Maguire and Henderson will have to be introduced now if they are going to get up to speed in time for the knockouts. I'd like to see both start. 

The clamour to also start Grealish is warranted after the Scotland snooze-fest, but I think he's a better impact sub - especially against tired legs in tightly-contested games. 

Foden and Sterling are our best wingers, and offer a nice blend of creativity, intelligent movement and finishing ability. They start in my team and from now on in this tournament. We have excellent options from the bench if one or the other isn't firing, though, and I'd love to see Sancho get a run at tired Czech legs. 

Mark White (@markwhlte (opens in new tab))


(Image credit: Future)

For me, it's less about the players that England put out and more about how quickly they move the ball. With the Three Lions already through to the next round, however, there's an opportunity to appease some of the "clamourers".

Everyone wants Grealish and Sancho to start; Mason Mount potentially missing out opens the door to the pair of them getting into this team. Given that the Czechs will probably sit deep, there's less need for runners in behind, giving one of these more creative figures the chance to play into contention. Chance creation has been the big Achilles for Gareth Southgate so far, so time to take the handbrake off and pen in a weaker side at home. 

Of course, come the knockout stage, the need for a Sterling or a Rashford becomes obvious again. Perhaps one - or both - can come off the bench tonight to prove their worth or perhaps one - or both - of Grealish or Sancho will flop badly against the Czech Republic and slip right down the pecking order. This is the last chance for someone to stake a claim in a team that hasn't yet crystallised into a set XI. I just want to see a few chances given to players who haven't got much of a shout yet. 

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Andrew Murray is a freelance journalist, who regularly contributes to both the FourFourTwo magazine and website. Formerly a senior staff writer at FFT and a fluent Spanish speaker, he has interviewed major names such as Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Sergio Aguero and Xavi. He was also named PPA New Consumer Journalist of the Year 2015.