We’re in the midst of the Premier League winter break, and last weekend Burnley didn’t have a game, which led to me thinking about matters further afield.
And as many an English football supporter muses for every two years, “Could this actually be our year?’”
Well it looked that way, briefly at Russia 2018, before those pesky Croatians scuppered Gareth Southgate’s dream. So now we look to Euro 2020 and I’ll run the rule over England, the tournament favourites.
Gareth Southgate’s men will surely navigate Group D in their draw probably alongside World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia, but how far can they go?
Belgium and France are numbers one and two in the FIFA World Rankings with England fourth and the Netherlands 14th.
Can Kane stay fit?
England’s dreams rest, in part, on the fitness of their captain and talisman Harry Kane who is injured this time with a hamstring problem. But King Harry is making a good recovery and Spurs boss Jose Mourinho thinks he may be ready to make an appearance before the end of the domestic campaign.
That’s great news for England since the boy is prolific. Kane scored a first half hat-trick against Montenegro as the Three Lions charged into the Finals with a thumping 7-0 victory, and he became the first England player to score in every game of a qualifying campaign when England finished off with a win over Kosovo.
He’s scored 32 goals in 45 games for England, winning the World Cup Golden Boot in Russia as the Three Lions finished fourth. In the run up to summer, Kane is sure to be making the big Euro 2020 news.
Sterling’s concerning form
England are also sweating on the fitness of the Manchester United striker Marcus
Rashford, who is suffering a back injury. So the form of Raheem Sterling is another niggling concern.
His spectacular early season performances drew comparisons with Lionel Messi and he has been scoring for fun, until the turn of the year that is. The England winger has missed a hatful of chances as Manchester City’s form slumped, going eight games without a goal.
Kane can’t do it on his own even at full fitness, so Southgate will do all he can to get Sterling in the right place.
He has options with the emergence of two exciting young stars at Leicester City in Harvey Barnes and James Maddison, but the England boss wants all his best players firing as they did in Russia.
Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard looks highly unlikely to recapture his 2018 form so Sterling is a crucial factor in England’s potential success.
Gareth’s Goalkeeper dilemma
The last time England won a major trophy in the 1966 World Cup, manager Alf Ramsay could count on his man between the sticks, the legendary Gordon Banks.
Who will ever forget Banks’ breathtaking save to deny the great Pele in 1970? If you haven’t seen it, check it out.
What Southgate would do for another Gordon Banks right now? There is plenty of goalkeeping talent around at the moment and the Premier League is blessed by the best keepers in the world. But in terms of England keepers do we have the all round package?
Everton’s Jordan Pickford held the position in Russia, making some good saves along the way but his best feature remains his distribution. He’s very comfortable with the ball at his feet but has developed an alarming knack of dropping clangers at crucial times, notably against Liverpool.
That was a trait which saw the end of Joe Hart and not one suffered by Burnley’s Nick Pope, who is a traditional keeper with command of his area, safe hands, quick reactions and improving distribution.
Both keepers have conceded 38 goals in the Premier League this season, and it’s easy to make a case for either.
But then there’s a third name in the frame. Manchester United’s Dean Henderson, on loan at Sheffield United, has had a superb season. He has conceded just 24 goals and is the main reason the Blades have exceeded expectations.
Only Liverpool’s Alisson has a higher save percentage at 87%, than Henderson’s 75%. The 22-year-old is certainly one for the future, but is he one for the now?
England have as good a chance as anyone, but they need three things to go their way as mentioned: Kane’s fitness, Sterling’s form and a near faultless keeper.
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