‘Strong argument Southgate got big calls right’

England manager Gareth SouthgateGetty Images
  • 6 June 2024

England manager Gareth Southgate has been accused of ignoring form when shaping squads of the past. It is a charge that cannot be levelled at him over his squad for Euro 2024 in Germany.

There will be justified claims that Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite should have got the nod ahead of Brighton central defender Lewis Dunk, but elsewhere Southgate has been ruthless and got it right.

The omission of Manchester City’s Jack Grealish may be the big talking point – but has he played well enough this season to be selected ahead of Crystal Palace’s Eberechi Eze, Newcastle United wide man Anthony Gordon or West Ham United’s consistently excellent Jarrod Bowen?

No.

Has Tottenham’s James Maddison done enough to edge in ahead of a similar group? In November the answer would have been in the affirmative.

Now? No.

Southgate, in answer to his critics, has gone with form and made the bold, big calls that look correct when examined in the current context.

And what a reflection on the fine work going on at Crystal Palace they are.

Adam Wharton has come from nowhere to be the “bolter” in England’s squad but his brilliant cameo against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday told Southgate all he needed to know.

Wharton’s calm and assured work on the ball, as well as a vision of what is going on around him, persuaded the manager that he should go to Germany.

He has wowed Southgate and team-mates. Could he even make it for the opening game against Serbia?

Eze falls into the same category. Exciting and fearless – just what is needed at a major tournament.

The Palace forward has edged in ahead of 28-year-old Grealish, a selection that is bound to spark much comment, especially as the Manchester City player is such a popular figure with England fans.

Measured in football terms, however, Eze is the only choice Southgate could have made on form at the end of the season. If City manager Pep Guardiola was unconvinced by Grealish, why should Southgate feel different?

This will, however, be a selection that will be thrown back at Southgate should England fail at Euro 2024. For the avoidance of doubt, this observer believes there is a very strong argument that Southgate has got it right.

Manchester United central defender Harry Maguire is a different case. If he had been anywhere near fit he would have been selected.

For all the conversation around his recent form at club level, Southgate would have pencilled him in to start against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen.

Southgate will regard Maguire’s absence as a serious blow. It means Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi is in line to partner John Stones, while Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Aston Villa defender Ezri Konsa add versatility and adaptability.

England’s squad has a bold and fresh look, feeding into the optimism that surrounds their chances at Euro 2024.

Southgate has avoided the conundrum of deciding between Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and Brentford’s Ivan Toney as potential deputy to captain Harry Kane by picking both – adding to the feeling that England’s manager is adopting a positive approach to his squad and Euro 2024.

There will be much discussion around Southgate’s picks for Germany, but his critics cannot accuse him of dodging the big decisions and this looks like an England squad that can travel to Germany with high hopes.

England XI for Euro 2024

Select your England XI for their Euro 2024 opener

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