With less than two months to go until the start of the European Championship in France this summer, managers of the twenty-four participating nations will begin formulating the squad that they believe stands the best chance of enjoying success. Roy Hodgson is certainly amongst those who face some difficult decisions in the next few weeks, and while England may go into the tournament with lowered expectations following many years of disappointment and the feeling that other countries have more quality at their disposal, there is still hope that the Three Lions can make a big impression. Recent friendlies against Germany and the Netherlands may have shaped Hodgson’s thinking ahead of Euro 2016, but with a few weeks still remaining in an enthralling Premier League season, there is still time for others to put themselves in contention for a seat on the plane.
Fans have already had their say over who they would take to France, with several debates and opinions throwing up various names who could feel unlucky not to be representing their country after enjoying an excellent season for their respective clubs. The friendlies certainly pointed towards a promising future for England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Ross Barkley and Harry Kane all excelling for the Three Lions. It may explain why Coral have installed England amongst the strong favourites in the most recent Euro 2016 tips promoted on their website, but it will need a lot more than youthful exuberance and talent for Hodgson’s side to surpass all expectations and go all the way.
It remains to be seen whether Hodgson is willing to experiment and bring in players that deserve a chance to represent their country, or go with his heart and select those that have served him well during a qualification campaign which resulted in a 100% record. Fans and punters alike can read full match previews on Coral ahead of each England game, with the odds on each player featuring in the starting XI likely to be shaped on form and fitness. One area that is certainly up for grabs is in the goalkeeper department, with Jack Butland’s untimely injury against Germany likely to force him out of Euro 2016. Joe Hart is nailed-on to be Hodgson’s number one in France, and while Fraser Forster may also have secured his place in the 23-man squad following some impressive performances for Southampton, it could leave the likes of Tom Heaton and John Ruddy fighting over the final goalkeeping slot.
Critics would point to England’s defensive unit as the weak spot that could cost the Three Lions any chance of reaching the latter stages, although the recent friendlies may have swayed Hodgson’s thinking for his starting line-up against Russia. Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill are likely to partner each other at the heart of the defence ahead of Phil Jagielka and John Stones, while Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker face a straight fight for the right-back berth. Danny Rose’s excellent performance in Berlin could have pushed him ahead of Ryan Bertrand in the pecking order, but while Luke Shaw will miss out due to a serious leg injury, Aaron Cresswell certainly deserves an opportunity in the England squad. The same could be said of Scott Dann who has barely put a foot wrong for Crystal Palace, unlike Jagielka who has not enjoyed the best of seasons at Everton.
Jordan Henderson’s injury has cruelly ruled the Liverpool midfielder out of Euro 2016 at a time when his position in the team alongside Eric Dier looked secure. It may result in James Milner or Danny Drinkwater getting the nod against Russia, although West Ham fans still believe that Mark Noble has done everything to deserve a chance in Hodgson’s team. There is no question that Barkley and Alli will feature prominently for England this summer, although the same could not be said for the wide positions. Adam Lallana may have played his way into contention after being named PFA Player of the Month for March following a strong run of performances, while Danny Welbeck may get the nod on the other flank after his pace and directness caused Germany all sorts of problems. Raheem Sterling may, however, force one of them out of the picture, and as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are struggling for game time at Arsenal, there is no reason why the likes of Michail Antonio and Wilfred Zaha should not be considered to be picked ahead of them.
The big question hanging over Hodgson’s England squad is where Wayne Rooney fits into the equation. Hodgson has been adamant that the country’s captain will be selected if fit, despite many pointing out that there are players more deserving of a call-up than a player who has spent the last few months on the sidelines. There is no question that Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy will be in the 23-man squad for Euro 2016, while Daniel Sturridge is also a certainty as he is one of the players that Hodgson has faith in. The only other striker that could force his way into contention is Andy Carroll who recently scored a superb hat-trick against Arsenal; his fitness and injury record would make it a risk to select him, but Carroll offers height and strength in the air that would provide England with something different if they came unstuck.
A quick overview of the players that Hodgson has at his disposal would suggest that England have enough quality to reach the latter stages, but they will need to click as a team and ensure that all aspects of their game are on point. If they replicate the performance in Germany across their Euro 2016 campaign, then there is no reason why the Three Lions could not be serious contenders to end fifty years of hurt and return home victorious.