Euro 2020 is on the horizon and that can only mean hope starts to build around the country as England look to end a 55-year wait for major international success.
There is plenty of optimism for Gareth Southgate’s men heading into the European Championship, with a strong squad, a rare positive experience at the most recent World Cup and of course many matches being staged at Wembley where fans are expected to return and back the Three Lions.
Admittedly, we have been here before with a promising bunch of omens for England only for them to fall short and break the hearts of a nation. But some of us will never learn our lesson so here are 10 reasons why England can end their silverware drought and ensure football really is coming home this summer.
England will be hoping they can go all the way and win this summer’s European Championship
Harry Kane has eyes set on being England’s first captain to life major silverware in 55 years
It’s been years since England could call upon such a wealth of attacking midfielders, but Gareth Southgate won’t fall into the trap of trying to shoehorn them all into a team, especially with a nation still scarred over years of working out whether Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard can play together.
But Southgate has some of England’s brightest and skilful set of players for a generation. Manchester City looked like having an issue trying to replace David Silva, but Phil Foden’s rapid development this term has seen him slip into Pep Guardiola’s attack like a favourite pair of slippers.
England have a wealth of attacking midfield talent including Manchester City’s Phil Foden
Mason Mount has proven himself to Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea as a key cog in the attack that is already taking on Europe’s finest for his club, and then there is Jesse Lingard who impressed at the 2018 World Cup and has found top form again at West Ham.
Of course there is also Jack Grealish – England’s next Paul Gascoigne given his swagger on the pitch, superb technical ability and almost effortless ease in dribbling past defenders. Maybe he knows how to score an all-time great goal against Scotland at Wembley, too?
But with so much attacking talent to choose from, one of Southgate’s mercurial midfielders won’t want to be likened to Gazza from France ’98 where he was a shock omission from Glenn Hoddle’s World Cup squad.
Jack Grealish (left) and Mason Mount (right) will also hope to feed chances for England’s attack
Strength at full-back
One aspect where the cards look to have fallen for Southgate is his excellent choice of full-backs to select from this summer.
Just on the right side he has five top class options with Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander Arnold, Kyle Walker, Reece James and even the uncapped Aaron Wan-Bissaka who are all good enough to compete at international level.
The bonus for Southgate is he could even pick Walker as a centre-back meaning his only concern here is who he leaves behind.
The left flank looked a huge weakness as recently as autumn, but as long as Ben Chilwell stays fit England have an excellent first choice in the Chelsea star while Luke Shaw’s Manchester United renaissance will almost certainly be good enough to earn him a back-up role at the very least.
Ben Chilwell (left) and Kieran Trippier (right) remain very strong full-back options for England
World’s best striker
Is there a better pure striker in football right now? Even in a disaster of a season for Tottenham, Harry Kane is the top Premier League goal scorer with 21 strikes.
He is not just a No 9 either, as under former Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho he became much more effective when dropping deep to try and influence play behind which means he also has a season high of 13 assists. Pep Guardiola didn’t once label Spurs as ‘the Harry Kane’ team for no reason.
If deployed correctly and has the support from a midfield far superior to that of Tottenham, Kane could prove unstoppable this summer, just like in the World Cup when he finished as the top scorer in Russia with six goals.
He may have been anonymous in all three finals he has featured in at club level, but he was arguably unfit for two of them and well… he is due a bit of luck from the football Gods. Who wouldn’t want to see England’s captain finally lift some deserved silverware this summer?
Kane ended the 2018 World Cup as the Golden Boot winner following his six goals in Russia
It would only be naive to suggest England have no weaknesses and one of them does concern the defence which in recent times have been too exposed and guilty of making embarrassing errors. Not the best of combos you wish to have.
Yet it is not down to player inability, especially with what could be a first-choice back two of Harry Maguire and John Stones.
Stones has made some high profile errors in the past wearing a Three Lions shirt but there is no getting away from his Manchester City form this season which has been sensational and proves that in a comfortable system he can play as an accomplished ball playing defender.
Stones is also a compliment to the more old fashioned mould of Maguire whose presence in both penalty boxes will be of major use this summer following a strong season at Old Trafford.
It’s not perfect but despite the set-backs in recent times, the City and Manchester United defenders England may be able to now start building a solid centre-back partnership at just the right time.
Harry Maguire (left) and John Stones could rekindle an effective World Cup partnership
Maguire has proven an asset in both penalty boxes for England throughout his career
Matches on home soil
For the first time since that glorious summer of Euro ’96 a major tournament will be featuring on British shores, and should England go all the way most of their matches will be at Wembley.
Granted, it’s not officially an England hosted tournament but with coronavirus restrictions likely keeping supporters local, a Three Lions team could end up playing semi-finals and a final in front of home fans at Wembley Stadium in addition to their three group games.
Players walking out to tens of thousands of supporters busting their lungs from singing ‘It’s coming home’ on an endless loop is almost a 1-0 head-start on its own.
With the nature of the tournament seeing many teams have to dart around Europe, (an idea that seemed ludicrous even before a pandemic), England could benefit more than ever from playing much of their games in the ambience of familiar home comforts.
Should England reach the final they can expect to play at least five matches at Wembley
The lifting of Covid restrictions will allow England to be cheered on by home supporters
Nothing to fear
Looking at the teams competing at Euro 2020, there is no reason England cannot go toe-to-toe with any of them.
Strictly speaking that is not to belittle the opposition England will face this summer as there are plenty of tough challenges. Not least in their own group with Croatia having knocked them out of the previous World Cup, Czech Republic who defeated them during qualifying and a Scotland side who will be highly motivated to bloody the nose of the ‘auld enemy’ in their own backyard.
England have little to fear but still face tough opposition including a motivated Scotland side
But this isn’t 2010 anymore where England were miles behind the likes of Germany and Spain in terms of talent and team spirit. Spain, although a classy side, are not the tiki-taka force they once were while Germany are entering a transition as long time coach Joachim Low prepares for his last tournament.
World champions France and new bogey team Belgium will also be of concern and you can never rule out the holders Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo. Even then any team can spring a surprise factor if they are lacking in a certain area.
Denmark failed to qualify for Euro ’92 before then being invited as a late replacement before going on to win it, while many are still scratching their heads over how Greece saw off Europe’s finest in 2004.
Eder, a striker who flopped at Swansea City, had enough about him to score Portugal’s famous winner to win the trophy in France last time out so there is nothing to fear for England as they look to finally give the nation a reason to stop talking about 1966.
The Euros have often sprung an unsung hero into the spotlight with Swansea misfit Eder grabbing the winning goal to help Portugal win Euro 2016 in France
No more paying the penalty
Pre-2018, English football had reached such a low when it came to penalty shootouts that had UEFA or FIFA decided drawn knock-out ties would be decided on a coin toss the FA would have backed it quicker than calling ‘tails’ on a spin.
To put it into context, the Three Lions’ penalty shootout record before the most recent World Cup was atrocious. Beaten by West Germany in 1990, Germany in 1996, Argentina in 1998, Portugal in 2004 and 2006, and Italy in 2012. In that time there was just one triumph against Spain in the quarter-finals at Euro ’96.
There was perhaps a little bit of bad luck in there somewhere, the five penalties dispatched against Germany at Euro 96 were as good as any you will ever see in a shootout.
Jordan Pickford’s goalkeeping heroics helped England end their penalty shootout hoodoo at the last World Cup, as he denies Colombia’s Carlos Bacca from 12 yards
But it all soon became a circus, with Beckham scuffing the turf at Euro 2004 while firing over, scoring just one penalty two years later at the World Cup, while somehow allowing Andrea Pirlo ‘Panenka’ to influence the momentum of a shootout at Euro 2012.
But England banished those memories in Russia three years ago after coming from behind in the shootout following Jordan Pickford heroics to finally defeat a major mental obstacle.
To prove it wasn’t a fluke, they beat Switzerland a year later on spot-kicks to claim third place in the inaugural Nations League. Unlike previous major tournaments, England now have reasons to be confident if a match heads into a penalty shootout.
Pickford is mobbed by Trippier and Kane after helping steer England to shootout success
World Cup confidence boost
As laughable as it seems given England have won absolutely nothing in nearly six decades (does ‘Le Tournoi’ in 1997 count?), the target when the Three Lions enter a competition is to try and win it.
So it is of little surprise when every two years there is a sense of disappointment and ‘what if moments’ when they do go out, usually without being within touching distance of even a final.
The World Cup in Russia had a welcome change of perception. Granted, it still ended without ‘football coming home’ but there was more of a celebratory feel to how England approached the tournament.
Despite semi-final defeat England departed the last World Cup with their heads held high as Maguire and manager Gareth Southgate applaud supporters
For the first time in arguably the 21st century, the casual England fan was back onside and believing that success could be achieved. The players seemed relaxed and looked to be enjoying the tournament, and a country was united in support of a strong side rather than frustration at seeing another underwhelming display.
Of course, one good tournament does not necessary lead to another. England’s World Cup semi-finalists of 1990 flopped in the group stage of Euro ’92 so it can’t be a given they perform just as well this time.
But Russia 2018 gave a new generation of England players and supporters belief that when things click, they can go far and that’s it not just a relentless slog to a quarter-final defeat on penalties.
England’s positive experience from Russia bodes well for the squad heading into Euro 2020
Part of England’s relative success in Russia was down to the management of Gareth Southgate, who appears to have learned from many of his predecessors’ failings.
Southgate was not a popular choice to become full-time manager once he replaced Sam Allardyce’s one game tenure which itself came after Roy Hodgson resigned following England’s humiliating exit at the hands of Iceland at Euro 2016.
Southgate’s approach saw ideas that were either seldom tried at best by former managers, or were quickly backed out of for more conservative and familiar approaches.
For instance, Steve McClaren infamously experimented with little preparation a back three for one Euro 2008 qualifier in Croatia and after defeat never trusted it again, while Sven Goran Eriksson rarely ventured far away from anything that was a 4-4-2 – and made sure all the big names had a spot in his side.
Gareth Southgate won over the nation by guiding England to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018
Southgate though has shown he was willing to build a tactic in a 3-5-2 based on his squad’s strength and weaknesses. Crucially once this was starting to lose its potency he developed another system with four at the back.
Changing formations, but with crucial preparation has not fixed all of England’s tactical concerns but the players are in a much better shape to deal with either the changing dynamic of a tournament or even a match now.
What’s more, Southgate is also keen to ensure only players who are worthy of a place get to feature and is not afraid to swing the axe on a big star should they no longer fit the system. Wayne Rooney’s slow but well managed phase out of the international set-up was respectfully done and young players have been eager to step up and prove their worth.
The England boss has been brave with squad selection and tactics which has paid dividends
Young but experienced and hungry squad
Which brings us to the squad Southgate will have going into Euro 2020. The oldest member of it could realistically be just 31-years-old with Kyle Walker celebrating his birthday later in May.
But neither will England be sending out a team who when stepping off a team bus look like they are on a school trip. A vast majority of England’s squad will be in their 20s and many of them will have been part of the positive experience in Russia three years ago.
Those that were not have since come into the side and have already been settled in. For instance, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Declan Rice have all debuted since the World Cup and looked comfortable on the international stage.
The benefits of this is means there is room to bring in fresh faced youngsters who could make a Michael Owen-esque splash onto the major stage, with teenage stars like Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Mason Greenwood all potential candidates to do so.
There are also some reliable old heads in the team who have had ups and downs in their international career with over 50 caps including skipper Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Walker so England’s squad has never looked as well balanced heading into a major tournament.
Southgate has kept a well balanced squad but has left room for future stars to possibly make their mark including 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund forward Jude Bellingham