5 England players with the most to prove at EURO 2020
Background Image Via: M(e)ister Eiskalt. CC BY-SA 3.0.
Here we go again. The hopes of a nation rest upon the shoulders of our Three Lions. The 'It's Coming Home' chants have started, as has the usual banter with both Scotland and Wales fans.
Gareth Southgate's England enter this tournament as second-favourites, though I'll be the first to admit that feels a little too hopeful. The lads have sleepwalked into this tournament courtesy of underwhelming victories over Austria and Romania respectively, though I guess they were wins nonetheless.
In terms of personnel, this squad offers up plenty of genuine quality. You have Harry Kane's goals, Mason Mount's tenacity and Phil Foden's sheer brilliance. There are a handful of England players who enter this tournament with plenty to prove, though...
Manchester City's #7 has always divided opinion amongst the terraces, though I'll put that down to the nature of the wing position. One game you're the hero, the next you're completely out of the action. Pep Guardiola has shown his hand in regards to Raheem Sterling this term, though, often dropping the 26-year-old in critical moments.
For England, more often than not Sterling has flattered to deceive. I'd argue he's amongst England's most naturally gifted attackers, it's just that in the big moments, he often shies away rather than standing up to be counted.
Now, aged 26 going into his fifth major tournament, this is Sterling's time to shine when the lights are at their brightest. If he struggles once again at a major tournament, then not only his place in the England XI will be in doubt, but possibly his City career, too...
The feeling amongst non-Everton England fans is largely negative towards Jordan Pickford. His slight stature, coupled with major lapses in concentration are bound to give Gareth Southgate sleepless nights ahead of any meaningful fixture. Games at the highest level can be won and lost on goalkeeping howlers, though thanks to a Nick Pope injury, the 27-year-old Pickford goes into EURO 2020 as England's undisputed number one.
An early mistake or two could offer a way into the side for either Dean Henderson or Sam Johnstone; both of whom have enjoyed excellent campaigns leading into the summer. For Pickford, the pressure is on to not only keep his place in Southgate's plans but also silence his doubters - of which there are many.
“Clearly Jordan's not fit - I don't think he should be involved… I've heard people say they want him around the place - for what? Does he do card tricks? Does he have a sing song? Does he do quizzes in the evenings?” https://t.co/YhYaXxg8FX
Jordan Henderson's battle is more physical than anything else. England's key midfielder has to prove his fitness first and foremost. Southgate selecting the Liverpool captain for his 26-man squad was always a risk - but one worth taking. The Three Lions are particularly light in midfield even with everyone healthy, so Henderson simply must be fit and ready to go when England (hopefully) progress into the knockout stages.
Like Pickford, outside of the Merseyside area, Henderson is marmite; you either love him or hate him. A good tournament here could sway more fans into his corner, though a poor one could swing things in the other direction. I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that if England are to be successful, Henderson has to have a great EURO 2020. No pressure, Jordan.
For the overwhelming majority, Jack Grealish has to be amongst the first names on the team sheet. However, you always get the impression that Southgate has never been completely convinced by Aston Villa's talisman. Not only did it take the England boss the best part of four years to select Grealish, he'd also play just 14 minutes during his first international break with the England squad.
There's only so long you can keep a good man down. During England's most recent friendlies against Austria and Romania, Grealish would steal the show with two outstanding individual performances. Those displays have cemented his place in the starting XI for England's opener against Croatia this Sunday. It's up to Grealish to ensure he remains in the line-up for the remainder of the tournament.
Off the pitch, Marcus Rashford has been an inspiration. On it, Manchester United's hometown hero has offered up a real mixed bag. On paper, the goal contributions look outstanding, though his stats mask a pretty drab season in terms of overall performances. That can be chalked up to a variety of injury issues. Those still loom over his head at this moment in time, with Rashford set for surgery following England's EURO 2020.
The problem for Rashford is that his form means he'll have to prove himself from off the substitutes bench to begin with. I don't doubt he can play his way into the team, Southgate obviously trusts the United #10 enough to hand him the captain's armband in England's last friendly. However, the fans will soon be on his back if the bad displays continue...