How England’s Starting XI might look for Euro 2016?
England manager Roy Hodgson will have enjoyed watching the Premier League on Gameweek 26, with Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge scoring on their return from injury.
Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Theo Walcott were also on target in GW26, leaving Hodgson suddenly with a wealth of attractive attacking options to choose from.
Hodgson will soon meet a large squad of players for a get-together at St George’s Park and that will give an indication of his thinking ahead of this summer’s Euro 2016 in France.
Putting a team together four months before the tournament obviously requires some level of guesswork, but could this be England’s starting XI for the opening game against Russia?
Jack Butland and Fraser Forster have heaped pressure on Joe Hart this season, but the Manchester City goalkeeper still looks to be England’s undisputed number one.
Hart is still young for a goalkeeper at 28, but he already has over 50 caps for his country and that experience could be vital, with plenty of young players vying for selection elsewhere in the team.
Butland and Forster look certainties to be the back-up goalkeepers in Hodgson’s 23-man squad.
Liverpool’s mixed season has made it harder for Nathaniel Clyne to nail down the right-back spot once and for all, but the 24-year-old looks the most likely contender at this stage of the campaign.
Clyne picked up seven of his nine England caps in 2015 and with few alternatives around – although John Stones could be an option at right-back – the shirt looks to be Clyne’s to lose.
Chris Smalling has had an outstanding season despite Manchester United being well off the pace in the Premier League and Hodgson has been a long-term admirer of the 26-year-old, having brought the defender to Fulham from non-league football at Maidstone United.
Smalling has only won 21 caps since his international debut in 2011, but with Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka both having difficult seasons he looks the outstanding centre-back available for England.
Having been identified several years ago as a successor to Rio Ferdinand, it is time for Smalling to step up and take on the mantle for both club and country.
Stones looks certain to be a vital player for England in the future, but Euro 2016 could be too soon for the Everton youngster, who has occasionally looked too raw for the Premier League this year.
However, Stones may well end up being selected alongside Smalling almost by default, unless his club teammate Jagielka can force his way back into Hodgson’s thinking in the coming months.
With Everton having been so poor defensively this season it feels odd for so many of their defenders to be in contention for England places, but Hodgson’s left-back options are not strong.
Luke Shaw’s broken leg looks likely to rule him out of contention and none of Baines’ rivals – including Danny Rose, Ryan Bertrand and Kieran Gibbs – look likely to usurp the 31-year-old.
Baines’ fine set pieces could also be an important asset for England at Euro 2016 this summer.
Jordan Henderson looks to be the only certainty in England’s midfield with four months to go.
The Liverpool captain has missed a lot of games through injury this season but that should mean he is fresh for the Euros, giving him another chance to follow in the footsteps of Steven Gerrard.
Dele Alli has been the Premier League’s standout young player this season and he could well edge out fellow midfield tyro Ross Barkley for a place in Hodgson’s starting XI against Russia.
Alli scored on his full England debut against France at Wembley in November and a recent wonderstrike against Crystal Palace showed off the teenager’s gigantic ability and potential. The only question is: will Hodgson be brave enough to give Alli’s massive talent room to thrive?
With Jack Wilshere’s latest injury looking likely to rule the Arsenal man out of the tournament, Mr Reliable James Milner could step into the all-important role at the base of England’s midfield.
Milner is another of Hodgson’s favourites and having left Manchester City for Liverpool to play in his favoured central role, the 30-year-old looks a certain starter alongside teammate Henderson. However, Tottenham’s Eric Dier is building a brilliant case with a series of fine performances.
Raheem Sterling burst into England’s team for the disappointing 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil and he was one of the few players to emerge from the tournament with any credit at all.
Since then, Sterling’s big money move to Manchester City has catapulted him into stardom and the versatile attacker looks like one of only a few England players to have the pace, skill and confidence to shine at international level.
Wayne Rooney is England’s record goalscorer and the 30-year-old is certain to be in Hodgson’s team for the first group match against Russia at Euro 2016.
Rooney has only hit seven Premier League goals this season but has been in better form of late and, fitness-permitting, he will add to his 109 international caps this summer.
The England captain has rarely shone on the world stage since breaking through spectacularly at Euro 2004 and Rooney will be looking to make his mark. If his side go deep into the tournament, Rooney could well overtake Gerrard and David Beckham on England’s all-time caps list.
The place in the team giving Hodgson the most headaches could well be his final attacking slot, with a host of players competing to play alongside Rooney and Sterling in England’s strikeforce.
Tottenham’s Harry Kane looks to be the frontrunner, having hit 22 goals in all competitions to fire his side to Premier League title contention and quieten all of his doubters.
The Premier League’s current top goalscorer Jamie Vardy would be unlucky to miss out, while Sturridge and Welbeck are also competing to be in the XI, but Kane has hit three international goals in eight caps for his country and is likely to earn the chance to add to that tally in France.