Gareth Southgate faces some big decisions as he prepares to name his provisional England squad for this summer’s rearranged European Championship.
Expectation is high heading into the first tournament the Three Lions will play on home soil – in part, at least – since Euro 96, with the run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals still fresh in the mind.
Those charged with helping England to a first major trophy since 1966 will be announced at 1pm on Tuesday, with manager Southgate explaining his decisions to the media an hour later.
The PA news agency understands Southgate will name a larger, provisional squad with the group being whittled down to 26 on June 1 – a decision taken given the ongoing assessments of fitness levels as well as a number of players participating in the Champions League and Europa League finals later this week.
Southgate has some tough calls to make, from the number of squad members to select and dealing without some during preparations, to the widely-debated right-back conundrum and his injured players.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was the shock absentee from March’s World Cup qualification triple-header, with Southgate instead plumping for Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker and Reece James.
Liverpool team-mate Jordan Henderson provides another headache. He has not played since undergoing groin surgery in February although Reds boss Jurgen Klopp says the issue should not keep him out of the Euros.
Manchester United captain Harry Maguire’s situation is a concern after sustaining ankle ligament damage that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expects to rule him out of Wednesday’s Europa League final against Villarreal.
Aston Villa skipper Jack Grealish completed his first full match since sustaining a shin issue in February in the season finale against Chelsea on Sunday, when Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips sustained a shoulder complaint against West Brom.
The Elland Road club said the midfielder’s injury “is currently being treated conservatively”, adding they “remain confident he will be available for Euro 2020″ if selected.
Another concern is Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope. Part of the 2018 World Cup squad, he played in all three England games in March with Jordan Pickford absent but is now having minor knee surgery.
Rolling the dice
Southgate may decide to roll the dice on some of those whose fitness is up in the air as England will now name their 26-man squad on the UEFA deadline of June 1.
The decision to increase squad sizes from 23, just like having five substitutes per game this summer, is aimed at helping balance player workload at the end of an intense campaign, but Southgate was not keen on the concept of expanded squads in March.
“I know there’s some discussion about perhaps an extended number in the squad,” the England manager said. “I’m not certain I’m behind that.
“I know Covid could play a part but I think there’s a skill to picking 23.
“It means you’ve got to make good decisions and important decisions and I think some of that can be lost as you get an extended group.
“So, yeah, let’s see how that develops but I’m not 100 per cent for it, I’d have to say.”
The make-up of Southgate’s group and standbys will be interesting considering a large chunk of the squad will be missing when they convene next week ahead of the friendlies against Austria and Romania in Middlesbrough.
Those involved in Saturday’s all-English Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea will be delayed, so too those playing for Manchester United in Wednesday’s Europa League final.
Greenwood a wildcard option
In-form Mason Greenwood is among those who will be involved in the latter final and has been talked up in some quarters as a wildcard selection.
The 19-year-old only has one cap to his name, having been sent home after his debut against Iceland along with fellow new boy Phil Foden in September for breaching the struct bio bubble in Reykjavik.
Asked about the possibility of representing England this summer, United forward Greenwood told the PA news agency: “To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it.
“I’m still just enjoying football as a kid, really, and still focused on United.
“I’ve just always been focused on United and whatever happens, happens towards the end of the season.
“If I go, I go, if I don’t, I don’t but I’ve just always been concentrating on United. getting the goals in and good performances.”