Gareth Southgate’s words created a spark for the Sportsmail columnists.
The England boss has a clear idea in his mind about his England side for the Euros this summer.
With that in mind, Sportsmail columnists Chris Sutton and Micah Richards discuss, debate and disagree over who they would pick. Dominic King and Kieran Gill made notes.
SUTTON: The front three Gareth Southgate starts against Croatia on June 13 will be Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, won’t it? Even you — as president of the Jack Grealish fan club — will admit that, Micah?
RICHARDS: One hundred per cent.
SUTTON: Phil Foden playing off the left, like he can for Manchester City, isn’t going to happen. He came on for the second half against San Marino. He’s not at the front of Gareth’s thoughts. Rashford hasn’t been in the greatest form but what about loyalty?
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RICHARDS: Loyalty? It’s football! Come on.
SUTTON: It’s surprising that Gareth says he knows his starting XI. It’s good he’s got a clear mind and has that confidence. But on the other hand, there are players over the next couple of months who could fire into form.
RICHARDS: I don’t mind hearing that he knows his XI. How many times have we said, ‘Oh! We’re coming into a tournament and we don’t even know our best team.’
At least he’s identified that and everyone else is in a trial period. What I don’t understand is if England are going to play 3-4-3, surely you’d play that so everyone has a fair chance of knowing their role when they come into the team? The four at the back against San Marino suggests they’re going to be flexible in their system.
SUTTON: What’s wrong with being flexible?
RICHARDS: Nothing! But if you’re playing 4-3-3 and then in the tournament you’re playing 3-4-3 and the manager asks you to do something, you’re thinking, ‘Hold on, hold on, hold on.’
SUTTON: Hang on, you’re Premier League players. This isn’t Sunday League.
Marcus Rashford seems to be very likely to start for England in their first game at the Euros
RICHARDS: Chris, international football is so different. There are so many times where you’re playing against 11 men and the ball goes slow, slow, slow. I know we have a laugh and a joke, but that’s why I’d have Grealish and Foden.
They can get out of tight little situations. We’ve seen it with England, the team they’re playing will put 11 men behind the ball. That’s when Rashford isn’t as effective as Foden or Grealish. If someone comes to us and attacks, leaving that space in behind, then of course you’ll use Rashford, because he’s got pace to burn.
SUTTON: So for Croatia, you’d go 4-3-3?
RICHARDS: I wouldn’t be worried about Croatia. Name me five world-class Croatia players, right here, right now, Christopher!
SUTTON: What! (laughs)
RICHARDS: Exactly my point!
SUTTON: Go on then, name me five world-class English players now.
RICHARDS: John Stones.
SUTTON: The one-season wonder?
RICHARDS: (incredulous) Oh my, Stones is world-class. Henderson? World-class. Kane? World-class. Sterling? World-class. We’re always worried about the other team. It’s not Brazil and their great team. It’s not France and their great team. We should be looking at our team and thinking: ‘We’re as good as anyone else.’
SUTTON: So just go gung-ho? Attack, attack, attack?
RICHARDS: Three in midfield is not gung-ho! I’m not suggesting a 4-2-4. I would just believe in our ability a bit more. Why do we have to go defensive? Why? I don’t get it. We’ll get to the quarters or semis, lose, then everyone will say, ‘We should have been more attacking!’
SUTTON: I can imagine Gareth going attacking against Croatia when we’re 3-0 down at half-time and us saying, ‘He should have gone with a back three.’
RICHARDS: You don’t need to go with a back three.
SUTTON: To leave out Trent Alexander-Arnold was a big call. I didn’t necessarily agree with that.
KING: The fact Southgate said he knows his best team and Alexander-Arnold isn’t in this squad suggests he’s not in the running for the Euros.
RICHARDS: One hundred per cent. So Chris, in your team, you’ve gone for Harry Maguire, Stones and Kyle Walker as a back three, wing backs of Reece James and Luke Shaw, and a midfield two of Henderson and Declan Rice. You’ve got seven defensive players on the pitch! Barring injuries, Trent is toast. I don’t understand how you can do that to the best right back in the league. He’s had a bad six months.
SUTTON: He’s not been that bad, either.
RICHARDS: Exactly. He’s not even been that bad. But everyone is mad on stats now, aren’t they? ‘He’s given the ball away a lot.’ But he’s put a lot of crosses into areas. If Liverpool had a proper striker, he would have had loads of assists this season.
SUTTON: Why is Eric Dier in the squad, then, if Alexander-Arnold is getting dropped for poor form? He can’t even get into the Tottenham team.
RICHARDS: Liverpool haven’t been playing well and Alexander-Arnold has still wanted to be an outlet. He’s got to understand that people are running past him too easily. He’s better than that. I don’t buy into the idea that he is always out of position.
If he is out of position, it’s because he’s trying to create something for the team which has made Liverpool what they are for the last three years. I don’t think he’s been as bad as people have said.
It’s just been highlighted more. If Gareth had said, ‘You’re not playing great football — this is a kick up the backside, come back stronger’, that would have been fine. But he has contradicted himself by putting Dier in the squad.
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SUTTON: (mischievous grin) You just need to give Gareth some support, Micah.
RICHARDS: I can’t deal with your team. I can’t. That tells me you’re setting up to defend. Seven defensive players on the pitch!
SUTTON: Shaw and James are attack-minded wing backs. He’s got the intuitive Henderson and Rice in midfield. The way Kane plays, the pace of Rashford and Sterling. Remember the game against Spain (in 2018) when England went 3-0 up. I do wonder if that’s a template he’s looking at.
RICHARDS: Why not go 4-2-3-1 then? You still get two defensive midfielders in front, in a more natural position. As a defender, unless you work on playing in a back three every day, people are going to get pulled out of position.
SUTTON: We should ask Gareth to come on one of these discussions and Micah can grill him!
RICHARDS: (laughing sheepishly) The thing is, I interviewed him for the FA recently. It was all (puts on a high voice): ‘Oh, hi Gareth! Are you OK, Gareth? Excellent formation yesterday, Gareth!’ Look, who I’d play and what the team will be are two very different things. I would go all-out attacking. But I believe he’ll play Sterling, Kane and Rashford.
Gareth Southgate is in a superb position with so many selection dilemmas for the Euros
SUTTON: Above all, this is such a nice position for Gareth to be in. We’ve got all these players, Grealish (left), Foden, Mason Mount, who will struggle to get in the team. What a position to be in.
Come on then, let’s pick teams. Gareth is going to play 3-4-3. My son was listening to you on the Monday Night Club this week and he thinks your squad reached 65.
RICHARDS: Goalkeeper? Jordan Pickford. He’s never let England down.
SUTTON: I’m going Nick Pope. He did absolutely nothing wrong against San Marino (raises eyebrows).
RICHARDS: My back four? Trent, Maguire, Stones, Shaw — he is in great form. Now here we go. One holding midfielder — Henderson. Mount in front of him. This is where it gets tricky…
SUTTON: (rolls his eyes) I have a feeling about who you are going to say…
RICHARDS: (chuckles) I’m going Foden.
SUTTON: Ahead of Grealish?!
RICHARDS: Look, you don’t know what I am going to do here.
SUTTON: I’m not so sure you do, either!
Trent Alexander-Arnold has fallen out of favour and is unlikely to play at the tournament
RICHARDS: Up front. Sterling on the right, Kane through the middle, Grealish off the left.
(Sutton roars with laughter)
What are you laughing at? We are making triangles, Christopher. Listen to me — you might learn a thing or two! Foden, Shaw, Grealish… Rotation on the left! When Grealish gets frustrated, he comes too deep. That’s not a problem in this team — you come back in, son, let Foden go out wide.
Shaw — pick your times to go forward. Trent — you’ve got the licence to get forward any time you want. Sterling knows how to cover. He does his defensive work. Licence! Kane? Don’t drop into the No 10! Stay up front! Mount? You’ve been a revelation, you’re in! Do what you do best. That’s my team — how can you beat that?
SUTTON: (starts clapping) How can I not agree with you now after that performance!
RICHARDS: Maybe it is a bit too attack-minded. At times, you might switch Rice with Foden. But I just believe we have got the players to explore. Go and enjoy it lads!
SUTTON: I agree with you on the back four but he is going to play a three against the better teams. I’ll go Walker, Stones, Maguire; James, Henderson, Rice, Shaw; Sterling, Kane, Rashford. You made a point once about full backs knowing their position better when they play in a four rather than as wing-backs. I think that’s an issue.
Micah Richards believes Jack Grealish should be in Gareth Southgate’s starting side
England have some classy attacking midfielders and Mason Mount is pushing for selection
GILL: Can you both give us one reason to be fearful and one reason to be cheerful?
SUTTON: I’ll get the negativity out of the way — tournament history. England always find a way of stuffing it up, don’t they? Do you think this squad has the mentality where they actually believe they can win a major tournament? I don’t sense it is quite there, but that is no slight on Gareth.
Reason to be cheerful? Competition — we are trying to cram all these good players into the squad. That’s a good problem, surely? Look at how Jesse Lingard has responded — he’s got a chance.
RICHARDS: I’m not a negative person, so I’m saying it is coming home! After the year everyone has had, to get tournament football will be brilliant. Remember the World Cup when it was sunny every day? It was like we had won it!
I do believe we can do something. Maybe it’s a bit premature to say we are going to win it. But it’s England — you just don’t know what is going to happen.