Champions League Performances Gives Gareth Southgate England Midfield Headache

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The last golden generation featured a plethora of world-class England midfield options. Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, David Beckham and Frank Lampard all made up an impressive list of players, giving Sven-Goran Eriksson from 2001-2006, and Fabio Capello, from 2008-2012, the biggest of headaches. 

Both tried and, ultimately, failed to find the combination to crack the code of international success. Now, years later, Gareth Southgate is left on the hunt for that exact same code with a new golden generation at his disposal in the England midfield.

Before, it was Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Beckham, Carrick and Lampard vying for a place. Now, it is Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, James Maddison, Mason Mount and Jude Bellingham providing Southgate with an impossible task. And this week’s Champions League ties have not made the decision any easier.

Champions League Hands Southgate England Midfield Headache

Mason Mount Becoming a Leader

At 22, Mason Mount has already captained Chelsea– in convincing fashion, too. And game by game, his leadership qualities continue to grow- as does his all-round game under Thomas Tuchel. People are finally starting to take notice of the midfield star. 

For far too long, many acted as though he was nothing more than the manager’s favourite. They said that was the only reason he got into Frank Lampard and Gareth Southgate’s side. Yet, here he is, a star pupil and leader under a world-class manager in Thomas Tuchel.

Tuchel has seen first hand how good players can become with guidance from his days at Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain. Mount will only add to the list of players he supervised in reaching their potential.

The 22-year-old’s goal against Porto which, involved an elegant swivel before a thumping finish, showcased that he is ready for the biggest stage. Many will be left believing that Mount deserves a place in the England midfield.

Jude Bellingham Becoming a Surprise Contender

It is perhaps ironic that Manchester City’s pre-game song is ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles when considering that it was, in fact, Jude Bellingham’s goal that almost knocked them out of the Champions League. In the end, City’s qualities prevailed, but Bellingham left his mark.

A year ago, the Englishman was bottom of the pile in the Championship with Birmingham City. Now, he is a Borussia Dortmund regular and Champions League quarter-final goalscorer. All at the age of 17. Months ago, it would not have been absurd to suggest that he is not ready for an England place, and his time would come after the Euros.

Since those suggestions, Bellingham has ripped that script to pieces and reinvented a new one to present to Gareth Southgate. He wants this England place- even at 17- over anyone that contests it in midfield.

Phil Foden: Up There With the Best

The final eight of the Champions League featured some of the best young talents in the world. And most put on a show, but no more so than Kylian Mbappe and Phil Foden. Mbappe’s goals almost single-handedly dethroned Bayern Munich and any chance of retaining their trophy. 

Meanwhile, Manchester City, in desperate need of a hero, were able to turn to their academy- to 20-year-old Phil Foden to take them through to the final four for the first time in the Champions League. 

Many say it is Mbappe and Erling Haaland who will dominate in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s absence, but Phil Foden will have something to say about that. At 20, he is already one of the best midfielders in the world. At times, he has dragged this Manchester City side to victories. 

He, out of all of the England options, has to be guaranteed a place in midfield.

England Midfield: Other Options

Of course, the three aforementioned players aren’t the only ones competing for a place in Gareth Southgate’s England midfield. Left competing is Jack Grealish, Maddison, Jordan Henderson, James Ward-Prowse and Declan Rice.

If fit, Henderson is almost a guaranteed starter despite Rice’s unforeseen rise. Henderson’s leadership, alongside his ability on and off the ball, make him a must.

That leaves two places and around six candidates to choose from. Grealish’s numbers at Aston Vila are almost unmatched, with seven goals and 12 assists. Meanwhile, Maddison’s form has helped propel Leicester City into a pole position for a European place- creating a dilemma. 

And, all of this is without mentioning the form of Jesse Lingard, who has resurrected his career at West Ham this year. Southgate’s position is not an enviable one, put it that way.

The Verdict

Choosing a midfield three could be Southgate’s most difficult task heading into the Euros. But he needn’t worry. He has the chance to utilise a 4-2-3-1 formation to fit the talent in, and finally, crack the code towards silverware.

The formation allows Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice, Mason Mount or Bellingham to sit in a deep-lying role, with Grealish and Foden sitting ahead of the two.

It would be a bold choice. But you don’t win silverware by being safe. Either way, with the talent at his disposal, Southgate must get it right.

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