England: The Defenders
On to the defenders, and perhaps the biggest surprise is the number of right-backs selected for the squad. There was little surprise that the uncapped Ben White and Ben Godfrey would make way from the original 33, but despite the constant media speculation to the opposite, it appears Trent Alexander-Arnold was always going to be selected. This means England will have an absolute wealth of talent in the full-back position, although several of the key players also possess some versatility and may be used elsewhere. The most experienced of the defenders selected is Kyle Walker, who has 55 caps to his name and is on the back of a very successful season, having helped his club win both the Premier League and League Cup, while also reaching the Champions League final. During the league campaign, he made 22 starts for City, also weighing in with a goal, while making 11 starts in the Champions League including the final in Porto.
He is joined in defence by club colleague John Stones, who also starred in that final. The former Everton defender enjoyed a fantastic return to form this season after a tough year, making a total of 35 appearances for the club after just 16 starts last season. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he also weighed in with 5 goals during the campaign, by far his best return at club level (he also has 2 for England). He formed a formidable partnership at club level with new signing Ruben Dias, and the hope is he can form a similar unit with cross city rival Harry Maguire at the heart of the England defence in the coming seasons, with plenty of football still ahead of him at the age of just 26.
Another of those named is Chelsea right-back Reece James, another who has earned fantastic reviews this season for his club, in a season which culminated with that special Champions League win in Portugal. The 21-year-old is another blessed with versatility and has starred for England at both right and left wing back, although he received a red card at the end of the game against Denmark, the first time England had ever had a double sending off after Maguire had received his marching orders earlier in the game. He has been in and around the squad since making his debut against Wales back in October 2020, and appeared 47 times for his club last season, with 34 coming as starts, including the match in Porto.
Kieran Trippier is another who is at home on either side at the back and has again played on both sides at international level. After making the switch to La Liga at the start of the 2019-20 season, Kieran endured a tough second season as he was handed a 10-match ban for a breach of betting rules, but fortunately was able to return to the side after sitting it out following an appeal. Better was to come when he featured as Atletico lifted La Liga for the first time in 7 years, ending the campaign ahead of Real Madrid having made a total of 35 appearances for the Spanish side. At 30, the former Burnley and Spurs man is one of the elder members of the squad now, although he only has 26 caps for the national side, all coming under Gareth Southgate since a debut back in 2017 against France. He is also a scorer of the goal that gave England belief before their eventual defeat to Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals 3 years ago, his only international goal to date.
And as already discussed, despite being tipped to miss out Trent Alexander-Arnold has also been given the nod. His exclusion, largely rumoured by the media, was because of both his and club side Liverpool’s wavering form since their scintillating title campaign last season, as both he and the side struggled to maintain a successful defence of the Premier League this season. Despite this, in the last few months both have enjoyed an upturn, which culminated in Liverpool securing 3rd place in the end to secure Champions’ League football next campaign, while Alexander-Arnold also forced his way back into international reckoning after being left out of the last squad. The 22-year-old right back currently has 12 caps and 1 goal to his name for the Three Lions, and although it is unlikely he will be first choice in the tournament, he can offer a variety of options down the right hand side, especially from an attacking perspective, while also being a useful addition should Southgate opt to mix things up tactically.
On the left-hand side, first choice is likely to be Luke Shaw, another who has enjoyed a resurgence this season as part of a Manchester United side who finished second to their cross City rivals in the league, whilst also reaching the Europa league final before losing on penalties to Villarreal in something of a shock. Shaw was another who appeared to lose his way after a big money move and the weight of expectation following his switch to Old Trafford, but this season he has begun once more to show the ability which has had him in and around the England squad for many years, the biggest shock perhaps being that the 25-year-old former Southampton man has only 9 caps to his name since his debut against Denmark all the way back in 2014. A regular starter at United this season, with 41 starts and 47 appearances in total, Shaw also created plenty with 6 assists to his name during the campaign.
Challenging him for the left back spot is Ben Chilwell, who was another part of the successful Chelsea Champions’ League winning squad, meaning he will join up later with the team, likely missing all the pre-tournament friendlies. After coming through the ranks at Leicester, Chilwell eventually made a big money switch to the capital to join Chelsea this summer, making 39 starts with his new club despite a change in manager mid-season, with Lampard, the man who signed him, being replaced by Thomas Tuchel. He faced some disappointment late on in the season, when having thought he had scored an equaliser in the FA Cup final against his former side, VAR ruled it out, although he was to enjoy success as his club went on to lift the Champions League. During his campaign, he also found the net 4 times and provided 7 assists for his club side, although he is another who is yet to get off the mark for his country after 13 starts to date.
Alongside John Stones in the centre is Harry Maguire, perhaps the biggest gamble for Southgate given the former Leicester centre-half is currently injured and lacking fitness. Maguire has come in for a lot of criticism for some of his performances at Manchester United, largely due to the eye watering size of his transfer fee which has perhaps weighted expectation unfairly against him at times. Despite this, he is clearly the preferred man at the back for Southgate, having made 30 starts under the England manager, with another 2 substitute appearances. Like preferred centre-half partner Stones, he has also weighed in with goals on the international front, with 3 to his name including a key goal in the World Cup qualifier against Poland back in March. He was also first choice at the back for United, making 51 starts before eventually coming off injured against Aston Villa at the beginning of May, the ankle ligament injury putting his involvement in the tournament, or at least the group stages in doubt.
Another who played that day was Tyrone Mings, the former Ipswich defender who has successfully made the switch from left back early in his career to a solid reliable centre half in the Premier League. This has also seen him force his way into international reckoning under Gareth Southgate, the 28-year-old making his debut back in 2019 against Bulgaria. To date, he has made 4 starts and another 4 appearances from the bench under Southgate, and is a good option to have due to his ability to comfortably play on the left, either as part of a centre half pairing or in a 3 man defence. He also enjoyed a fine season as Villa finished 11th in the Premier League, a great season including a memorable 7-2 win against Liverpool at Villa Park, coming just days before an international appearance against Wales from the bench, where Mings claimed an assist in a 3-0 friendly win.
The final defender in the 26-man squad is Wolverhampton Wanderers skipper Conor Coady. The 28-year-old, another with limited international experience to date, made his international bow when he was handed a start in the UEFA Nations League game against Denmark back in September 2020, playing the full game as he helped his side keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw. At club level he started all but one game in the Premier League, as Wolves suffered a tough campaign finishing 13th, a finish which saw manager Nuno Espírito Santo step down at the end of the campaign. Coady himself, however, continued to stand out as a leader, including a great performance against Spurs despite a 2-0 defeat at the end of the season.Share this: