The England national team faces an important year. A brilliant qualifying campaign and a good performance in the UEFA Nations League has shown that Gareth Southgate’s young squad weren’t fluking their 4th place finish at the World Cup in 2018 and now they head into the European Championships confident. Scoring goals is not an issue, despite injuries to Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford, thanks to the sheer amount of attacking talent on offer. But the squad can still be improved thanks to Burnley having a strong English contingent and a tight-knit, well-performing side.
Nick Pope will almost certainly be called up by Southgate for the next squad, but the argument is really about who should be the first-choice goalkeeper. Jordan Pickford is currently Southgate’s number-one, but a number of costly errors in the blue of Everton has left the door open for Pope and young Sheffield United stopper Dean Henderson.
Pope currently has the most clean sheets in the Premier League (for a goalkeeper - only Virgil Van Dijk has more than Pope and his Burnley teammates James Tarkowski and Ben Mee) with 11 and has shown off his impressive shot-stopping ability once again this season. Pope also has major tournament experience after travelling to the World Cup in 2018 and played a major part in Pickford’s fantastic performance in the penalty shootout win against Colombia.
The final reason why Pope should be England’s number one in the next squad is simply based on succession. Pope has had to wait for his chance as Burnley’s number one as well as being behind Pickford in the England pecking order. Pope has now had two brilliant seasons in the Premier League (he was injured for the rollercoaster season in 2018-19 and played no part) so now he must be given his chance to make the England shirt his own. Henderson’s time will come, and he will almost certainly play a valuable part in the squad so he should be involved, just not as number one.
James Tarkowski is the only other player on this list that has been called up for England’s senior squad. Tarkowski has been an integral part of Burnley’s defence since he came into the side to replace Michael Keane, who left for Everton in 2017.
Tarkowski is another player whose club form should get him into the England squad as he is currently one of the best performing centre backs in the league, and Southgate makes regular trips to Turf Moor to watch Burnley games. Tarkowski is relatively good on the ball and is confident when passing around at the back, something that will endear him to the style of play favoured by England, whilst also being solid when defending. Leaking goals is something of an issue with England, often conceding sloppy goals so having a player who can focus on simply stopping an attack, before they try and counter. This will work especially well if Tarkowski is playing in front of Nick Pope, a goalkeeper with whom he has a brilliant relationship.
Ben Chilwell is probably England’s best left-back at the minute thanks to his good form for both Leicester and for the national team, but he needs a back-up option should he get injured. Luke Shaw and Danny Rose have both been discussed as options, but Charlie Taylor is one of the better options. He has been in stellar form both defensively and going forward for Burnley and his relationship with Dwight McNeil is one that is hard to find. He has a good cross and has the engine to get forward and back all game, something that has improved dramatically since he first came into the Burnley first team.
Taylor is not the kind of flair player that many clubs have but he is solid and will certainly bring that safety to the England back-line should Chilwell get injured. Starting at the Euros could be a step too far at this stage, but it could be a good move for the pre-tournament warm-ups so he can get that experience to improve his game and test himself against the best in the world.
Burnley’s 20-year-old left winger is a star in the making. He is a standout player in every match and is consistently a goal threat whether it is through assists or him scoring the actual goals. He has the ability to take on the man and the strength to hold him off should he need to, but his best asset is, without doubt, his left foot. Consistently putting good balls into the box whilst being a danger from set-pieces is something that is certainly of value to his Burnley side, but also could be useful to England.
Being able to learn from players such as Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho (who is a similar age) could prove invaluable but he could also bring something that the others don’t. If England are chasing a game, McNeil’s crossing into the box from deep, right on the by-line or from a set-piece can add another dimension and more direct approach to England’s attacking armoury.
This year could be too soon for a player who has only had a couple of caps in an England shirt altogether never mind being called up to the senior team, but if Southgate is going to choose a young player to take, he is one of the better candidates.