England will kick off their Euro 2016 campaign on June 11 against Russia in Marseille, looking to avoid a poor start in a group that many people believe, at least on paper, they are favourites to win.
Ahead of their opening match at this summer’s tournament, England manager Roy Hodgson has some very big decisions to make, from his goalkeeper right the way up to his strike force.
If you're looking at the form book, Hodgson should pick Manchester United’s Chris Smalling and Everton’s John Stones as England’s central defensive pairing in France, but are there any other players in contention?
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In what has been a hugely disappointing season for Manchester United, Chris Smalling, along with David de Gea and Anthony Martial, has been one of the few consistent top-class performers for Louis van Gaal’s men. Since the departures from Old Trafford of Rio Ferdinand and recently-retired Nemanja Vidic in 2014, Smalling has stepped up and taken on the responsibility of being the leader of United’s defence.
The 26-year-old centre-back is strong, very quick, difficult to beat in one-on-one situations and has produced some dominant displays over the course of this season. As his reading of the game continues to improve, Hodgson will hope that Smalling has the ability to replicate his performances at club level on the international stage.
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John Stones is one of the most promising young defenders in European football at the moment but, to some people’s surprise, he has received a fair amount of criticism over the last couple of months.
The 21-year-old has recently overcomplicated his game to a certain extent, trying to do too much on the ball and suffering some erratic lapses in concentration. If Stones reverts back to basics and keeps it simple, the Everton starlet’s elegance and class in possession could be better suited to the more tactical style of international football as opposed to the fast-paced nature of the Premier League.
Stones stands out from the other central defenders vying for a place in England’s starting line-up this summer because of his high-quality ball-playing skills. Despite being relatively inexperienced at senior level, the ex-Barnsley man isn’t afraid to step out of defence and run forward with the ball, and he possesses the passing range of a seasoned midfield playmaker.
He is arguably the most technically gifted centre-back his country has produced since former Man United and England skipper Ferdinand, who hasn’t been backward in his praise of Stones. The youngster could’ve moved to Chelsea last summer but staying at Goodison Park and playing regular first-team football was the best thing for him to do.
There’s no doubt that Stones has massive room for improvement as he strives to become a world-class defender, but his quality on the ball could prove to be a priceless asset on the international stage for The Three Lions.
At the start of the season Gary Cahill would have been one of the first names on the England teamsheet but he’s only started one Premier League game since Boxing Day. However, with 40 international caps to his name, he is the most experienced defender currently available for selection by some distance and he was appointed by Hodgson as England’s vice-captain.
The 30-year-old will be the greatest beneficiary of the season-ending knee injury to Kurt Zouma. The young Frenchman’s unfortunate injury will allow Cahill to regain a regular place in Chelsea’s starting XI and remind everyone of what he can do in time for the Euros.
22-year-old Eric Dier has been in splendid form during what has been an incredible season for Tottenham so far, but the defender has been used by Mauricio Pocchetino predominantly in defensive midfield and not in the centre of defence.
If Phil Jones can regain full fitness and if Phil Jagielka can get some meaningful minutes under his belt between now and the end of the season, they too could provide some competition to Smalling and Stones.
Who do you think should start for England at centre-back? Have YOUR say in the comment box below!