Football has been dominated over the past two days by the prospect of a European Super League, a breakaway competition that has highlighted further the financial greed of the game’s elite.
Each of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ have been announced as founding members of the tournament, which threatens the existence of the game as we know it and acts as a closed shop for the world’s wealthiest – the rich get richer and the poor are not even allowed to compete.
Governing bodies including the Premier League, UEFA and FIFA have all come out strongly in their opposition to a European Super League, with threats including the prospect of expulsion from competitions and the banning of participating players from major tournaments including the World Cup and European Championship.
This summer will see the rescheduled European Championship take place with England amongst the favourites to win a first major trophy since 1966, but the Three Lions’ side could look hugely different if players from Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal were banned from competing.
We’ve decided to assess Gareth Southgate’s options and pick a best England XI if top six players are banned from the Euros.
Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford – Everton
England’s number one goalkeeper would remain available for selection with Everton outside of the traditional ‘top six’, Pickford retaining the trust of Gareth Southgate despite indifferent form for his club side.
Despite inconsistency in an Everton shirt, the 27-year-old has rarely faltered for England and his ability with the ball at his feet continues to give him an edge over Burnley’s Nick Pope when it comes to international football.
Of Southgate’s goalkeeping options, Pickford and Pope remains his first-choice two with Sam Johnstone the most likely candidate to join the squad should Manchester United shot-stopper Dean Henderson be banned.
Right-back: Matty Cash – Aston Villa
Southgate has an embarrassment of riches at right-back with a whole host of leading names in the position, though the removal of ‘top six’ players would see England look to uncapped options.
Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey and Norwich’s Max Aarons are both exciting talents and have impressed at U21 level, though Aston Villa’s Matty Cash looks the most ready-made option to step into the side.
Cash has enjoyed an excellent first season in the Premier League in an improving Villa side and has been name-checked by Southgate previously when discussing his options at right-back.
Centre-back: Conor Coady – Wolves
Conor Coady was handed his senior England debut last year and has since won four caps, the Wolves’ captain having been an irreplaceable figure in Nuno Espirito Santo’s side over the past three Premier League seasons.
Coady’s ability on the ball and passing range from deep make him tailor-made for a possession-based style, though question marks remain over his ability in a back four system with both Wolves and Coady looking more comfortable with three central defenders.
The 28-year-old’s leadership is valued by both club and country however, and he remains a strong chance for a place in the squad this summer even if ‘big six’ players are permitted to play.
Centre-back: Tyrone Mings – Aston Villa
Tyrone Mings is the second of our centre-back pairing with Southgate an admirer of the 28-year-old, handing the defender eight caps since making his debut in testing circumstance against Bulgaria in 2019.
Mings has emerged as a leader at Aston Villa and despite occasional lapses remains an important figure, whilst his left foot brings balance to the backline – especially in the event of a back three formation.
Mings’ recent involvement puts him narrowly ahead of Everton’s Michael Keane in the pecking order, whilst club teammate Ezri Konsa is another who will have hopes of breaking into the England squad in the near future.
Left-back: Aaron Cresswell – West Ham
England’s left-back options had looked straightforward with the in-form Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell expected to be named as the Three Lions’ options, but the prospect of a ban on Super League players opens up a vacancy.
Aaron Cresswell is the leading candidate to step into the side following a superb season for West Ham, the 31-year-old playing the best football of his career for David Moyes’ side this term.
Cresswell’s seven Premier League assists are the most in the division by a defender, whilst he ranks behind only Shaw for crosses per 90 minutes amongst English full-backs.
Cresswell won the last of his three caps against Lithuania in 2017, but could be in line for a recall should unprecedented sanctions be imposed.
Midfield: Declan Rice – West Ham
Declan Rice looks a certain starter for England regardless of the fall-out from the ESL, the midfielder having grown in stature for both club and country in recent seasons.
The 22-year-old has won 15 caps since switching his allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England and has been a mainstay in Southgate’s squads since his debut in 2019.
This season the holding midfielder has elevated his game to new heights as the leader of a West Ham team enjoying an excellent campaign, captaining the top-four chasing Hammers for much of the season.
Rice ranks second in the Premier League for interceptions and is amongst the division’s leaders for tackles won, the midfielder set to play a major role in England’s pursuit of success this summer.
Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse – both regulars for England of late – would also be strong contenders to feature in a midfield three.
Midfield: Jude Bellingham – Borussia Dortmund
Jude Bellingham’s performance for Borussia Dortmund have increased calls for him to be handed a starting role with England this summer, the teenager having impressed on the Champions League stage.
Bellingham became the third-youngest England international of all time when making his senior debut last year and his performances against Manchester City in the Champions League this month proved the 17-year-old is capable of mixing it with the best.
Pep Guardiola described the teenager as a ‘fantastic player’ following the quarter-final tie and many have tipped Bellingham to become the box-to-box number eight England have craved.
Bellingham has taken each step of his meteoric rise in his stride and a summer showcasing his precocious talent on the international stage is not beyond one of world football’s most exciting prospects.
Midfield: James Maddison – Leicester
England’s abundance of creative options had reduced James Maddison’s hopes of making the squad for this summer’s Euros, but a potential ban of players including Mason Mount and Phil Foden opens up an opportunity for the Leicester star.
Maddison has so far failed to add to his sole cap for the national side and his recent faux pas in breaching Covid-19 rules will not have strengthened his standing with Gareth Southgate.
However, in the absence of the names previously mentioned the 24-year-old would provide an intriguing option, a player who oozes confidence and possesses the ability to operate in tight pockets of space.
Maddison’s creativity in a deeper role would supplement England’s attacking options and players capable of match-winning moments can prove priceless in tournament football.
Right-wing: Jadon Sancho – Borussia Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund are understood to have turned down the opportunity of joining a Super League, allowing Bellingham and Jadon Sancho to feature for England in the event founding clubs are banned.
Sancho remains one of the most talented young players in world football and would find himself as a key figure in England’s frontline, the 21-year-old having been one of the most productive wingers in Europe in recent seasons.
Sancho has provided 15 goal involvements (6 G, 9A) in 21 league starts this season, a fine return despite a dip from the staggering 33 involvements in 32 Bundesliga appearances in 2019/10.
Left-wing: Jack Grealish – Aston Villa
Gareth Southgate will be hoping Jack Grealish can bounce back from his recent injury problems ahead of this summer’s major international tournament, the Aston Villa captain having underlined the role he can play after initially taking time to win favour with England.
Grealish has starred during his initial appearances at senior level including a fine performance against world number one Belgium, whilst his performances at club level have seen him emerge as one of the Premier League’s best creative forces.
The 25-year-old has scored six goals and provided a further 10 assists this season, whilst he ranks behind only Kevin De Bruyne for expected assists per 90 and third overall for key passes played.
Comfortable operating from the left or in a more central role, Grealish can provide the invention England would need to progress to the latter stages.
Forward: Dominic Calvert-Lewin – Everton
England’s hopes of being crowned European champions would be devastated in the absence of Harry Kane, though Dominic Calvert-Lewin has performed admirably in his audition to be the captain’s leading deputy.
Calvert-Lewin has scored four goals in just seven caps since being handed his debut by Southgate, adding to a career-best haul of 19 goals in all competitions this season for Everton.
Southampton’s Danny Ings perhaps serves as the best stylistic replacement for Kane and scored his first England goal late last year, though Calvert-Lewin’s performances since stepping up to international level put him front of a queue also including Ollie Watkins and Patrick Bamford.
The 24-year-old also has experience of winning international tournaments at youth level, having scored the decisive goal as England’s U-20 side secured World Cup success in 2017.
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