Welcome back to England at the Euros! Last time out, we introduced the mini-series, looked back at Gareth Southgate’s squad composition at major tournaments and compared to my likely approach, and established the ‘core’ of our squad. This time out, we’ll be looking to complete the 26-man squad that will be heading to Germany. There will be qualifying performances to talk about, injuries to consider, and data to analyse.

Qualifying Performances

Although I obviously had to take a look at some fringe players to try and establish whether they would be useful additions to the final squad, I still wanted to take the qualifiers seriously and establish momentum before the tournament. Outside of the already established core of players, there were a few players who performed well and gave themselves a great chance of making the squad. 

With a core established of ten players, the left-wing is the only starting berth that there wasn’t an immediate incumbent for in my mind. Marcus Rashford has started the save as the man in possession of the jersey, and has played well enough to confirm a squad place, if not definitely a starting role. 

Conor Gallagher established himself as the most likely midfielder to come off of the bench and provide energy late in the game. The current plan is to play Jude Bellingham alongside Declan Rice in the pivot, but allow the Real Madrid star to venture forward to join the attack. Obviously Conor does not have the same technical ability as Jude, but can offer runs from deep and also offer a valuable defensive contribution sitting deeper.

If my squad was based on real life form, I personally wouldn’t be taking Jack Grealish to the Euros. Luckily for Jack, this is a game, and he’s performed admirably in the minutes I’ve given him. Mostly playing as a more possession orientated late sub for Marcus Rashford, he’s been able to provide a good output in limited minutes and also offers a good level of versatility. 

Jarrod Bowen has also done well in limited minutes, and I’ve actually found that introducing Jarrod and Jack at the same time can change our angle of attack late in the game. We’ll discuss tactics in full in the next post, but the current shape sees an Inside Forward (usually Rashford) on the left and an Inverted Winger (Saka) on the right; by introducing Jarrod and Jack we switch this around and give both opposition full-backs something new to deal with while they’re tiring. I was also very impressed with Jarrod in a friendly against Germany. Harry Kane was injured after just seven minutes and Jarrod was asked to play as the lone striker; he didn’t get on the score sheet himself but did lay on an assist and was a constant threat. 

I’ve had the same dilemma with Trent Alexander-Arnold as many talk about in real life; does he go as a right-back, and if so, does he start? Or do we take him as a midfielder, despite his limited game time there? I have tried him in midfield and honestly, I wasn’t that impressed. However, at right-back he has been exceptional, laying on four assists in four games as a right-back. The main question now is whether he has done enough to displace Kyle Walker from the starting eleven.

Raheem Sterling hasn’t been in the England conversation for a while now in real life, but has tournament pedigree and in-game did well when Rashford missed out through injury. Our attacking midfield unit can essentially be split between who I would use in ‘creative’ roles (Grealish, Foden, Saka) and who I would expect to offer a goal scoring threat (Rashford, Bowen, Sterling), so having Sterling in the squad as a more like for like replacement/rotation for Rashford seems a sensible pick to me.

If we add these players to the core, then our current squad depth looks like this, with 16 of 26 players selected.

Irritating Injuries

Injuries have been a frustrating part of my England experience so far. The likes of Kyle Walker, Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka have all missed international squads already due to injury. Touch wood (I’m writing this post as I play through to tournament selection), I haven’t had any of my key players ruled out of the tournament due to injury so far. However, there are a couple of players who would have been in contention who will now most likely miss the tournament. 

Marc Guéhi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were both involved in our most recent friendly, a win over Paraguay, and both impressed. Guéhi especially was on my radar right from the start, but a long-term injury prevented any involvement until this point. Loftus-Cheek benefitted from a good season with AC Milan and a lack of quality alternatives in his position, but both are now out for six weeks and don’t look like they’ll recover in time. Another player unlikely to make the tournament due to injury is Lewis Dunk, however I haven’t been sold on him anyway and he looked likely to miss out on merit.

Spaces to Fill

So with ten spaces left to fill (plus a stand-by list to put together), it’s time to start looking into the data to see who has made a claim through their domestic form.

Goalkeepers

I’ll be honest, the backup goalkeepers are unlikely to have any wildcard selections in them. Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope have both played a game each during my reign and done fine, but with Jordan Pickford the undisputed number one there isn’t much work to be done here. The only interesting decision is who would go along if one of the three keepers were to be injured. Based on domestic form, it would be a shootout between Dean Henderson and Jason Steele.

Both have had fairly similar seasons, with both Crystal Palace and Brighton securing solid mid-table finishes. Henderson has proven himself to be a slightly more capable shot stopper, with his higher Expected Goals Prevented and Clean Sheets per 90. However, I like Steele’s ability as a true Sweeper Keeper. He wins the ball more often, is safer on the ball when he has it, and makes more passes too. The chances are neither will be needed, but if push came to shove I think I would opt for Jason Steele.

Defenders

With Marc Guéhi now likely to miss the Euros, we need at least three defenders to fill the squad and probably a couple more to act as stand-bys. Since the start of the save the only players to feature at centre-back besides John Stones and Harry Maguire have been Fikayo Tomori and Benjamin White

Tomori was okay in the games he played for me but didn’t excel; however, he does have a few things working in his favour and will be in the squad. Firstly, he’s more comfortable on the left of the centre-back pairing, making him a good replacement for Maguire if needed but is also primarily right footed so could cover Stones if needed. The second is that he’s almost certainly the quickest centre-back in the Euros conversation, giving us an extra athletic edge. Lastly, had an excellent season for Milan and so would come into the tournament in good form.

Benjamin White definitely has the ability to play in central defence for us, but much like in real life he’s coming off of a full season playing at right-back for Arsenal and so his performance data isn’t overly reliable.

He’s definitely in contention to go, as his versatility as a potential third right-back certainly isn’t a bad thing, but I’m not sold on him as a centre-back option so I think it’s worth exploring some other options. 
Based on performances for their clubs, the likely next in line would be Ezri Konsa, Jarrad Branthwaite and Max Kilman.

Konsa’s performances have been exceptional, but he’s followed the money to Saudi so the level of football has to be taken into account. Branthwaite and Kilman haven’t been amazing by any stretch, but there is a real dearth of English central defenders playing well this season and so these two are as deserving of a chance as any. 

Others that I’ve looked at but are lower down the pecking order are Joe Gomez (primarily played at right-back), Lewis Dunk (unlikely to be fit in time as previously mentioned), Levi Colwill (barely played) and Trevoh Chalobah (played poorly for Chelsea).

Then we come to left-back, where we’re looking for an understudy to Luke Shaw. Luckily, this is a two man shootout; either Ben Chilwell or Rico Henry will be on the plane.

This wouldn’t usually be seen as much of a competition, but despite a very impressive season for Chelsea, Chilwell has been nothing but average for me in the games he’s played. Rico Henry came into contention for a spot fairly late on; Tyrick Mitchell actually played a couple of the first games of my reign but was poor, and after an injury to Chilwell I decided to give Henry a chance. He did well on his debut, with an assist and a man of the match performance against Malta, but has been fairly average since. If there was another international break before the tournament then Henry may have just been able to sneak in, but I think in this instance experience and a good domestic season see Chilwell edge it, and barring injuries he will be on the plane.

Midfielders

With Bellingham, Rice and Gallagher already assured of their places, we probably need two more in the squad plus some potential injury replacements. 

An area where England have been lacking for a while now is in a true holding midfielder. Declan Rice is obviously exceptional, but arguably it isn’t even his best role and we’re not making the most of him by using him there but needs must. James Ward-Prowse and Kalvin Phillips have both had minutes as our deepest midfielder but it doesn’t really suit either of their games properly, so I’ve had to look slightly further afield.  

Rico Lewis has been able to break into an unbelievably talented Manchester City side and although his game is also primarily a creative one, he has more defensive discipline than the likes of Ward-Prowse and Phillips. I tried Lewis as the defensive midfielder in a friendly against Paraguay and he did fairly well, and he’s also played a handful of games in the pivot for City this season. My biggest concern is his lack of aerial threat, but we do have plenty of that elsewhere in the squad.

In terms of a dedicated ball-winner, no English player has looked more impressive in domestic football this season than Sean Longstaff

Longstaff is in the 90th percentile for winning the ball, and also wins 76% of his tackles. He’s also very safe on the ball, in the 95th percentile for possession lost. There isn’t much intent to his passing, with less than four progressive passes per 90, but in the role I’d be looking for him to do that isn’t a necessity. He’d likely not get many minutes, but as a late sub to shore things up I think I could do worse.

In terms of a fifth option, I would absolutely love to take Kobbie Mainoo. I may be biased as a Manchester United fan, but I think he is absolutely the real deal and think he definitely deserves his spot in Southgate’s squad. However, in game the Euros have come a bit too soon for him, and he didn’t have a great season in United’s midfield. I did give him a cap to see how he would get on in a dead rubber, but he didn’t excel.

Mainoo’s club team-mate Mason Mount has returned from injury to have a solid season, and offers the versatility of being able to play in the pivot or in behind the striker. He offers previous tournament experience and is obviously incredibly talented, but there are question marks about whether he’s had a good enough season to warrant inclusion.

This is almost certainly the most wildcard selection I’ve considered for the squad, but Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall had an absolutely sensational season at Leicester City (albeit in the Championship) with 11 goals and 15 assists in 45 games. He played a more traditional box-to-box role for the Foxes, but I have no doubt he could play as the Segundo Volante in our system.

In a similar vein to Kobbie Mainoo, I also looked intently at Adam Wharton after his move to Crystal Palace, but again a poor season has led me to believe he isn’t quite ready.

Forwards

The forward positions are far more fluid, but we’re looking at taking ten attacking players to cover four positions. Seven of those positions are locked in, and so we need to find the final three players to compliment those. 

Although all of the currently selected players can cover multiple positions, I do think we could do with one more ‘specialised’ number ten. If anything were to happen to Foden then the main replacements would be Grealish or Bellingham, both of whom I prefer in other positions for our system.
Throughout the games I’ve managed, opportunities have been given to Cole Palmer, Mason Mount, Ebere Eze, Jacob Ramsey and James Maddison in behind Harry Kane, and none really looked that impressive. But then, in looking at a potential solution for another problem, I think I found what I was looking for.

Off the back of a good season in the Premier League, this player was given an opportunity in the Paraguay friendly. Having started the game on the right wing and been quiet, a shift to the number ten role for the second half sparked an excellent performance, capped by a debut goal. 

The player in question? Michael Olise.

A conversation where I informed Michael he could be a solid squad player for us was enough to convince him to declare his international allegiance, and so we have a new weapon in our arsenal who could be a very useful replacement for Saka on the right, or for Foden through the centre.

Next on the agenda is, in theory, the player least likely to play outside of the substitute goalkeepers. There can’t be too many outfield players as assured of their place as Harry Kane is, but we do need options in case he picks up a knock or is exhausted late in a game. The squad already contains Jarrod Bowen and Marcus Rashford who can play through the middle, but I prefer both out wide and would like to take along a dedicated number nine.

In the real world this is a straight shootout between Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney, with the Aston Villa man being my preference. In game Watkins got off to a really slow start domestically, and I was concerned I’d need to look elsewhere. Rather than looking towards Ivan Toney, I turned to the in-form Dominic Calvert-Lewin, a player who has done the understudy to Kane role at a major tournament before. As Watkins improved, both players actually ended up having quite similar seasons, with 33 goals between them.

Looking at the pizza charts I’m actually slightly surprised at how similar their all-round games have also been. I expected Watkins to be the slightly more clinical of the two but also be relentless in the press, while Calvert-Lewin would be more of a dominant aerial presence. In reality both are useful players to press high, a really valuable tool late in tournament games, and both put up very similar aerial stats. The biggest difference is that Calvert-Lewin is far exceeding his xG, meaning he’s been able to match Watkins’ output with a lower quality of service. 

Although no decisions have been made for sure yet, there’s actually a thought in my mind to take both along, and utilise Watkins as an extra wide man. 

If I do decide against taking both Watkins and Calvert-Lewin, there would potentially be space in the attacking unit for a really unexpected selection. Jadon Sancho has the pedigree and clearly the talent to be involved, but is he somebody I could rely on to make an impact?

One player who has absolutely been making an impact for their club is Angel Gomes. Although naturally a central player according to his profile, he’s played predominantly as a left-winger for Lille and been excellent, with eight goals and three assists in 23(1) appearances.

Some other players that I’ve looked at but haven’t played often or well enough to convince me to take a chance on them are Morgan Gibbs-White, Anthony Gordon, Dominic Solanke, Harvey Barnes, and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens.

The Provisional Squad

In order to try and maintain a sense of realism, I have named a 33-man provisional squad, just like Gareth Southgate has. Football Manager doesn’t deal with preparing for a major international tournament in quite the same way, so I’ll explain how I’m making this work. 

In game, a 30-man provisional squad is named which I’ll need to then cut down to the final 26-man squad, annoyingly before the two warm-up friendlies. If a player included in the squad gets injured pre-tournament I will obviously have the option to replace them, but there is no restriction on who I can call upon, which essentially makes the in-game provisional squad useless. Therefore, I’ve named myself an extended provisional squad, and will use the players not included in the final 26 as my stand-by list, meaning they are the only players I will call upon in case of injuries.

I still haven’t settled on my final 26-man squad, even as I write this, but I’ve got two warm-up friendlies against Sweden and Romania to try and help me narrow it down. 

Next up I’ll be looking at my tactical approach to the tournament, and then after that it’s the big one, a run through of the tournament itself! Until next time…

Author

  • adam_otbfm

    Adam, known in the Football Manager (FM) realm as @adam_otbfm, is a fervent gamer and content creator. With a penchant for football simulations, Adam delves into the intricacies of FM, sharing his findings on his blog "On the Break." His creative ventures include replicating football legends like Kaka in the virtual pitch, showcasing a blend of nostalgia and modern gameplay. Adam's musings extend to social platforms like Twitter, where he actively engages with the FM community, sharing his gaming journey with @SJK_Seinajoki. His insightful content and avid participation enrich the FM community, making him a valued member in this virtual football world.

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