Greenwood, Saka and Foden's restart form bodes well for Euro 2021
Young English stars Mason Greenwood, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden have lit up Project Restart and give Gareth Southgate and embarrassment of riches ahead of next year’s Euros… Marcus Rashford and Co will have to up their levels
- A number of young English talent have impressed during football’s restart
- Mason Greenwood, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden have shone in the top-flight
- With Euro 2020 delayed a year, Gareth Southgate’s options are stacking up
In a year’s time football will be preparing for the semi-finals and final of a rescheduled Euro 2020. Will those games — all planned to be held at Wembley — be played in front of crowds? We hope so.
Will they involve Gareth Southgate’s England? We all hope for that too. The England manager is unable to watch his players live due to the restrictions caused by coronavirus.
But what will he be learning from the resumption of the Premier League?
Young England talents like Phil Foden have brought excitement to the restart this summer
Gareth Southgate will have been watching with interest as stars fight for places at Euro 2021
It says everything for the rapid progress made by these two products of the Manchester clubs that neither has yet so much as set foot in a senior England squad.
Watching them in recent games it is not difficult to imagine them in Southgate’s actual team.
Competition is fierce in England’s midfield and up front but Greenwood’s goals for United and Foden’s developing ability to control a game mark them out as rare talents.
Mason Greenwood’s double against Bournemouth for Manchester United caught the eye
Greenwood will be only 19 next summer but that will not deter Southgate.
He looks the most natural English goalscorer to emerge as a teenager since Michael Owen more than 20 years ago.
Foden, 20, has been a little slower to make the necessary steps but Pep Guardiola trusts him now — and he is certainly not a bad judge.
Foden has accelerated his rapid progress even further and is gaining more minutes at Man City
Arsenal have found one too!
Bukayo Saka would not have been anywhere near Southgate’s squad had the Euros been played this year as planned.
But the hopes Arsenal have for the 18-year-old are deep-rooted and are reflected by the new contract he signed last week.
The left-footed volley Saka scored at Wolves on Saturday made him the second youngest Englishman to score for Arsenal in the Premier League.
‘It wasn’t a bad goal,’ was Saka’s take on it. The England manager will not disagree.
Arsenal have brought young Bukayo Saka into the first-team and he has thrived on the left
Something may have to give
The only Englishman to score for Arsenal at a younger age than Saka is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the 26-year-old, now at Liverpool, is a player who may have to find another gear in the next 12 months.
Others in that category include Tottenham’s Dele Alli, Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard and Chelsea’s Ross Barkley.
It is worth remembering that Southgate has already blooded a crop of young players such as James Maddison, Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho, Declan Rice and Callum Hudson-Odoi. The oldest of those players is Leicester City’s Maddison, who is 23.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks like he will have work to do to make the squad next year
We won’t win anything with kids
At least at international level, which is why Southgate will take some persuading to veer from the spine of his team that he has had in his mind for a while.
He believes that goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, centre back Harry Maguire, midfielder Jordan Henderson and forwards Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane are pretty much in his first-choice team unless they suffer injury or a dramatic loss of form.
That is only right. International football is another level up from the Premier League in terms of expectations — even more so given that England will largely be based at Wembley next summer — and ideally Southgate would like to carry some flavour of the team that reached the semi-final of the last World Cup into the tournament.
Harry Maguire will likely keep his spot as Southgate aims for stability in the spine of his side
The fans are back on board
There is a misconception that England supporters had over time lost interest in the national team. That isn’t strictly true; they had just lost interest in watching them play football that wasn’t exciting.
For all Roy Hodgson and Fabio Capello’s efforts before Southgate, the England team had come to represent everything that the Premier League isn’t — slow, predictable and completely unsexy.
With the help of the technically advanced players being produced by academies, Southgate has turned that around and unless something goes badly wrong in the games that the international schedule will cram in over the next 12 months, England will begin Euro 2020 with a renewed sense of good will behind them.
England fans are excited by their team for the first time in a long while thanks to attacking play
The players are likeable, too
This definitely helps. The break in the Premier League season while the country tackled the worst of the coronavirus outbreak was unprecedented, but many of our players came out of it having shown a side to their personality that threatens to make them genuine role models.
Henderson, Sterling and Marcus Rashford — to name three of a much greater number — engaged with their communities in a way that felt natural and genuine. The public can tell when sports stars are faking it and these boys aren’t.
Perspective also does no harm when it comes to delivering on the field. Southgate’s Euros squad may end up being on the young side but there will also be a grown-up feel to it.
Jordan Henderson is one star who has endeared himself to the English public this summer
Rashford has another level to find
It is hard to say, but for all his great work off the field during the lockdown, the Manchester United forward now has a mounting challenge to face on the pitch.
The 22-year-old has improved as a footballer under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United manager believes there is much more to come from him.
But as the standard of the attacking players available to Southgate rises, players like Rashford must increase their levels accordingly.
The resumption of the Premier League has seen Rashford return to action after an injury lay-off so he should not be judged too harshly on some modest performances.
Nevertheless, if Kane and Sterling are shoo-ins for next summer, that leaves only one available place in Southgate’s front three — and Rashford could help himself by improving his recent goal record.
Marcus Rashford will face stiff competition from other attacking players next summer
There will be disappointments for some
It is a while since we have said it but Southgate is in danger of having an embarrassment of riches available to him.
We have not mentioned Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish or Harry Winks of Tottenham. With a mixture of old and young and a smattering of left-footed players also in the mix, England does not want for creative players with their best years ahead of them.
Southgate would have loved to have played the tournament this year as planned. Wouldn’t we all?
But if his squad is not a touch stronger and wiser by next summer, something will have gone very wrong indeed.
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