Euro 2020: What is Gareth Southgate's ideal England starting XI v Croatia?


EURO 2020 is FINALLY upon us.

The continental carnival might be a year later than planned but, as of this moment, we really don’t care.

England open up their campaign with a rehash of that painful 2018 World Cup semi-final when they welcome Croatia to Wembley. 

It could prove to be a massive clash in the wider context of the tournament with England needing to get off to a roaring start.

So, with that in mind, each of our football writers spent some time agonising over Southgate’s options and, after much head scratching and back and fourth, it’s safe to say we haven’t all come to an accord.

Here are the various line ups we came up with followed by some justification for why each writer has picked the side they have:

Danny Ryan 


If Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson are injured, Southgate needs to go for it.

Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings are simply not good enough to play for England, but White and Bellingham most certainly are.

Mount, Grealish and Foden is one of the most exciting attacking-midfield trios you could possibly create among current players and Southgate would be a fool not to unleash it at Euro 2020.

Jack Saville


It’s got to be coming home this summer, right? Centre-forward and centre-back are pretty much the only positions that pick themselves and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford getting my vote as England’s number one by virtue of his previous experience at a major tournament.

Reece James wins the most competitive right-back race in living memory having capped a stellar season at Chelsea, while Luke Shaw just gets the edge over Ben Chilwell as reward for his immaculate consistency at Man United in the 2020/21 season. 

I’ve played it relatively safe in central midfield, bringing Jordan Henderson into the fold for his leadership qualities and pairing him with Declan Rice, who is still wildly underrated amongst England supporters and offers so much more than just a destructive presence in the pivot role.

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Further forward, I just can’t see past Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho in the wide forward positions.

Their magisterial blend of attacking qualities should breed potency in tandem with Harry Kane’s vision and creativity, and the injection of panache from Jack Grealish in the number ten role completes what has to be one of the most fearsome front fours at the tournament.

Finally, it’s as you were from Russia 2018 with John Stones and Harry Maguire once again lining up alongside each other at centre-back, though this time they form a duo rather than a more conservative trio.

Rob Hoskin


Let’s start off in the back four and Tyrone Mings’ less than convincing performances in the two warm-up matches may have prompted Gareth Southgate to bring in Ben White, rather than James Ward-Prowse as Trent Alexander-Arnold’s replacement.

It’s clear Harry Maguire isn’t going to be fit.

The choice between Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw is a toss-up but we’ve just opted for the Champions League winner but there won’t be any arguments if the Man Utd man starts.

Jordan Henderson shouldn’t be fit enough to start either, so we’ve gone for Kalvin Phillips over Jude Bellingham because he adds a bit more defensive stability to allow the attacking players to flourish.

Jack Grealish narrowly misses out purely on needing runners with pace in behind Harry Kane, who likes to drop deep. Southgate is probably more likely to turn to Raheem Sterling but I think Sancho deserves to start based on this brilliant season.

Kobe Tong 


If we’re talking an ‘ideal’ XI, then we’ve got to keep our fingers and toes crossed that Maguire can make a triumphant return against Croatia.

Otherwise, it might be worth rolling the dice with Ben White for as long as Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady flatter to deceive.

With that cast iron centre-back partnership, there should be no need to deploy two defensive midfielders and Bellingham is the ideal option to maraud between the penalty areas with his ever improving performances for the Three Lions.

It pains me more than I’d care to admit that there isn’t a place for Jack Grealish in my line-up, but I think that the direct and gung-ho influence of Phil Foden should be the priority on the left-hand side and his Aston Villa-dwelling teammate would be a stellar impact substitute on the hour mark.

And while it’s tough for me to imagine a world in which Gareth Southgate picks Sancho over Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, I think it’s the safest option given the Dortmund man’s superior form coming into the tournament and larger number of appearances on the right in 2020/21.

Either way, though, I think we can all agree on something: It’s coming home.

James Stroud


I don’t envy Gareth Southgate because there will be critics no matter what XI he picks!

While I suspect Southgate will play a back five against Croatia, I’d like to see us have a go and pick an attacking XI.

The Three Lions are spoilt for choice at right-back but I’d go with James, who has been brilliant for Chelsea in 2020/21.

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I’m not convinced with any of the centre-backs other than Stones but, for me, White would be the best choice.

Including Henderson would be a risk given his lack of football in recent months but he got minutes under his belt against Romania and I think his experience will be vital in midfield.

The lack of speed in attacking areas would be a concern but this can be addressed with Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all providing great options off the bench.

Matthew Watkinson


Jordan Pickford’s impressive distribution edges him ahead of Dean Henderson in goal with the Euros maybe coming a tad too early for the Manchester United shot stopper.

England’s lack of depth at centre-back is a big concern. Harry Maguire is presumably unavailable; therefore, Tyrone Mings may be the best option as a left-footed central defender to offer a balanced partnership with John Stones who is a shoo-in to start.

Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice and Mason Mount are probably England’s most balanced midfield. Henderson’s vocal presence could be essential in guiding the younger pair of Mount and Rice, although if the Liverpool skipper is unfit then Jude Bellingham would be my next pick.

Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden are unlucky to miss out, however Jack Grealish must start as his ability as a ball carrier and his knack of winning free-kicks in dangerous areas could be key.

Sam Brookes


The 21-year-old James was so impressive in the Champions League final. The way that he did not
give Raheem Sterling an inch was refreshing to see, and proved that he had the temperament
for the big occasion.

I’m willing to take a risk on Bellingham. While he is still only 17,  he is a serious talent and Jordan
Henderson is not fully-fit. 

Bellingham will need to be a little more cautious than he was in the friendly against Austria, when he was caught upfield on a couple of occasions early on, but I expect him to have learned and feel that he is ready to make an impact on this tournament.

Foden has to play. He is an outstanding player who can operate from either wing or even in central midfield, but on this occasion I would play him from the right, cutting inside onto his favoured left foot, linking the play with Mount and the rest of England’s front line.

Paul Conolly 


No big surprises in this line-up.

My biggest conundrum was picking between Chilwell and Shaw at left-back but the Man United star just pips it for me.

Pickford just seemed to make the most sense while White and Stones are the only real choice at the heart of the rearguard right now.

Henderson and Rice sitting in will provide a platform for England’s plethora of attacking talent to flourish.


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