The England national team are heading into the European Championships this summer with a settled and exciting looking attack.
It is widely expected, unless the injury curse strikes in the next few weeks, that Roy Hodgson will name five strikers in his squad to take to the Euros: Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck.
Accompanying these five in the attack, there are three midfielders in particular who add to the squad’s potential: Dele Alli, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling. All three have impressed in an England shirt (particularly Alli) and will play a crucial role for their nation in this summer’s tournament.
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There is a great belief in England’s attacking talents for the first time in many years. Kane and Vardy are the top two scorers in the Premier League this season, while Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck offer great international experience as well as goal-scoring potential.
The creativity and youth of Alli, Barkley and Sterling will ensure that the strikers will have plenty of opportunities to fill their boots in the tournament.
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While there is a buzz about England’s attack, it is at the back where key questions and concerns remain for the Three Lions.
In previous tournaments it has been the opposite, with more confidence in the defence and question-marks over the attack; but in 2016, there is no Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Sol Campbell or Tony Adams to call upon to lead from the back.
Chris Smalling has been the best English centre-back this season and deserves his place at the heart of England’s defence, but there still remains enormous questions over who should partner the Manchester United defender.
Hodgson will select Everton’s John Stones and Phil Jagielka while Chelsea’s Gary Cahill will also be included. Neither have seized their opportunities to prove themselves this season for club and country.
Stones is an exceptional talent who is confident on the ball but is prone to taking unnecessary risks at the back, holding onto the ball for too long and allowing attackers to close him down.
Jagielka has been a good club defender throughout his career, but he has struggled to make the grade at international level.
Cahill is a solid performer, but his recent performance against Germany, coupled with the fact that he has had an inconsistent season with Chelsea, has raised questions about whether he should be a starter in France.
With England lacking in the centre-back position and in desperate need of a consistent performer who is comfortable leading a backline, it is reasonable to question why a player like Ryan Shawcross is finding it impossible to add to his solitary cap that he received in 2012 against Sweden.
During that game, England were well and truly Zlatan’d, losing the game 4-2 with the giant Swede scoring all four goals, including a sensational overhead kick from 30 yards out.
Shawcross was on the pitch for 16 minutes as Ibrahimovic scored three of his four goals and the Stoke City captain has been in the international wilderness ever since. It has even led Shawcross to jokingly admit recently that Ibrahimovic ended his England career.
The 28-year-old defender has been at Stoke since 2008, after a successful loan spell away from Manchester United was made permanent.
He was handed the captain's armband by Tony Pulis in 2010 and has made over 250 appearances for the club, firmly establishing himself as a crucial member of both Pulis’ and current boss Mark Hughes’ squads.
This season, Shawcross was leading a defensive line that did not concede a goal for over 500 minutes between October and December 2015.
Shawcross has also given exceptional performances this season against former club United, Manchester City and Chelsea where, in the latter game, he frustrated Diego Costa so much that the Spanish international, clearly running out of ideas, suggested that Shawcross was suffering from BO.
It is difficult to explain why Shawcross has been cast aside by Hodgson after his ill-fated debut. The Stoke captain has been, arguably, one of the most consistent English centre-backs over the past few seasons. He has also demonstrated a great ability to lead, which is something that the current England national side is severely lacking in.
Perhaps it is the stigma of the Aaron Ramsey incident back in 2010 that hangs over him, but, for an incident that occurred six years ago and with an England appearance in 2012, there can be no real argument for Shawcross’ persistent exclusion from the national team.
England are crying out for a dominant and physical centre-back who is comfortable in a leadership position.
Ryan Shawcross is the only available defender who ticks all of these boxes and Roy Hodgson should reconsider his inexplicable decision to overlook him time and time again.
The centre-back’s England exile will seemingly never end and the ongoing decision to ignore him and his performances will remain one of the great footballing mysteries.
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