My England Best XI for Euro 2021
Stepping into Gareth Southgate’s shoes to pick my ideal lineup for England in this year’s Euro, using a 4–2–3–1 formation
By: Maxwell Argento
With top-tier European players in the thick of international duty and Euro 2021 quickly approaching, here is my XI that I think gives England the best chance of winning the tournament for the first time in the country’s history.
Goalkeeper: Nick Pope
Supporters of Everton #1 Jordan Pickford will want their man to claim the starting spot between England’s goal posts instead of Pope, and will reference things like better distribution and flashes of brilliance during the last iteration of the World Cup. If I was Southgate I would choose the best pure shot-stopper as my starting goalkeeper, which in my mind is the Burnley netminder. Pope even has 246 accurate long balls in Premier League play this year to Pickford’s 187 (with only five more appearances), which doesn’t necessarily help Pickford’s case as the one who sprays the ball around the park. Furthermore, I find Pope to be less mistake prone and erratic than Pickford, which in a tournament context is what you need from your number one.
Left back: Luke Shaw
The Manchester United left back has been one of a handful of the best at his position on the continent since the start of the season, and has reclaimed a spot in my starting lineup from the likes of Ben Chilwell due to his performances. Shaw has become (other than Bruno Fernandes) the first name on United’s team sheet for big games, mostly due to his calm demeanor on the ball in possession and positive qualities in the final third. An added boost for Shaw’s case is his ability to take left-footed corners, as well as his understanding with Harry Maguire at the club level. Having two men who play side by side every week at their club helps massively in a tournament setting, where patterns of play and chemistry have already been cemented.
Center back: Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire has done well to make himself an obvious choice for Southgate as part of the England setup over the last couple years, his quiet leadership and consistency a huge reason as to why for both club and country. On the pitch Maguire gives England a dominant arial presence in both penalty boxes, and his ball-playing has quietly improved slightly while with Manchester United. A big positive of his game is the ability to stride out of defense with the ball at his feet and start attacking moves, which makes up for his lack of top-class technique striking the ball. Maguire might not be the flashiest pick as part of this England XI, but his inclusion definitely makes them better, which makes it a rather straightforward choice for the England manager.
Center back: John Stones
Twelve months ago discussions of John Stones being a certified half of a center back partnership for the Euros seemed much less realistic than they do now. The Manchester City defender has completely turned his play around since the start of the domestic campaign for Pep Guardiola, and in my mind should be first choice for Gareth Southgate from a defensive standpoint. Stones might be the best ball-player in the squad regardless of position, giving England the ability to play the ball out from the back and between the lines from the center of defense. The same dynamic with Shaw and Maguire on the left can be seen with Stones and Kyle Walker on the right side of the defensive formation, their understanding a main pillar of City’s incredible clean sheet record in the Premier League. Simply put, a top form John Stones is a must for Southgate if he has designs on leading his team to a Euro 2021 victory over the summer.
Right back: Kyle Walker
In a team as loaded as this one is, Kyle Walker completely flies under the radar when getting picked to this teamsheet, but his inclusion makes all the sense in the world for Southgate. Trent Alexander-Arnold may be the best right back in the country going forward, while Aaron Wan-Bissaka might be the best in the country in the tackle. The problem for both of them is that neither is anywhere near as well-rounded a player as Walker, which is a must if England choose to defend with four instead of with a back five. The Manchester City fullback still has pace to spare, and is more than capable of providing end product from wide while still being able to track back against opposition wingers. I’ve already chronicled the partnership on the right side of the defense with Stones as being advantageous, and Walker’s experience would be an asset to a rear guard that doesn’t necessarily have any huge characters.
Holding Midfielder: Declan Rice
It would be criminal for Southgate to not pick Declan Rice to start at the base of England’s midfield in either a double-pivot or as the lone holder in a 4–3–3. The West Ham skipper is ‘future captain of England’ material, and provides boundless energy from the engine room in midfield every match he plays. Rice has the same ability as Maguire to bring the ball out of the midfield via the dribble and break through the lines, and his stature provides another threat in opposition penalty boxes, which is something we have seen David Moyes put to good use in the Premier League. His ball playing is assured and his passing range is more than ample enough , especially when he has a partner alongside him to help circulate play. In my national teams I want players who understand what it means to put on their country’s shirt and act accordingly on the pitch, which Declan Rice does to the enth degree. It’s this easy for me; picking an England starting XI that excludes Rice is tantamount to self-sabotage.
Holding Midfielder: Jordan Henderson
In my 4–2–3–1, I can’t think of a better midfielder to pair with Rice than Jordan Henderson. The Liverpool captain provides the same energy and tenacity that Rice does in the middle of the park, and his technique and quality on the ball has improved drastically under Jürgen Klopp in the last couple of seasons. With so much quality in the attacking phases of the formation for the Three Lions, the midfield really only needs to provide steel and defensive solidity, which Henderson (along with Rice) do as well as just about anyone in the Premier League, while still managing to sneak into the penalty area and be contributors going forward. Even though he may not wear the armband during the tournament’s duration, Henderson is the best leader of men the country has, and can use his experience leading Liverpool to the biggest trophies in Europe to aid his younger teammates, who will undoubtedly play a massive part in England’s ambitions.
Attacking Midfielder: Mason Mount
My ‘Player of the Season” for Chelsea also deserves a cemented place in England’s starting lineup, playing “in the hole” in my 4–2–3–1 formation. Mount may not have the upper-end talent of Phil Foden or Jadon Sancho, but is as consistent and polished a young player as the country has. His eye for goal reminds some older fans of his former manager Frank Lampard, and his work rate allows him to be the trigger that starts the team’s press from the center of the park when his team don’t have the ball or turn the ball over in the final third. Mount’s tactical awareness and decision making always seems to be completely in order, and he can even take set pieces and corners, which are huge in a tournament setting. There is a good chance that in several years we look back on Mason Mount’s Euro 2021 as the moment that jumpstarted his career as a Lion and made him a shoe-in as part of England’s setup for the next decade.
Left Winger: Jack Grealish
The Aston Villa captain is the most spontaneous, mercurial, incisive player that England have, and should be given the license to create with the same frequency that he does for his domestic club. There hasn’t really been a more consistent creator of chances in the Premier League from attacking positions over the last two seasons than Grealish, which is something that the Three Lions, generally, are crying out for. While Southgate might go with a more conservative, “reliable”, option in this place (like Raheem Sterling) I would place a premium on players like Grealish who can singlehandedly change the outcomes of matches with their actions. Villa’s talisman can do just that, cutting in on his right foot to either take aim at goal or provide for his teammates, and would start on the wing in my England team in a heartbeat.
Right Winger: Phil Foden
Some may think that the 20 year old wonderkid from Manchester City may not be ready to feature for England in a major tournament, but they would be wrong. Foden has been managed perfectly by Pep Guardiola over the last 18 months, and is starting to show signs of his world class talent more consistently at the club level. Seemingly dominant with both feet and being used to the fluid style of “total football” that Guardiola employs gives Foden the ability to be flexible on both wings and roam around the park, searching for openings between the lines and out wide in space. With skill, pace, and a match IQ far beyond his years, Foden is the archetype of a young phenom in today’s game, and would be a justified choice to start in almost any XI at the Euros, England included.
Forward: Harry Kane
One massive advantage for England is the fact that they can claim to have (other than Poland’s Robert Lewandowski) the best pure center forward, on current form, on the planet in Harry Kane. Tottenham’s leading man has evolved his game to an even higher level since England’s last major tournament, which has made him all-but undroppable under Southgate. Kane has thrived coming deeper to thread play together from the center forward position for José Mourinho’s Spurs, which allows him to show off his eye for a pass and ability to hold the ball up with his back to goal. For as good as this part of his game is, it can barely hold a candle to his ability to finish goals with total lethality whenever he gets a chance in the box, even when he has to use his weak foot or his head. If England are given winner’s medals at the end of Euro 2021, it will more than likely be because Harry Kane is in the running for both ‘Player of the Tournament” and the Golden Boot Award.