England vs Croatia: Predicted starting line-up
(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

A repeat of the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-final will take place on Sunday when England face Croatia in the first Group D match of this summer’s European Championships.

Many questions remain unanswered over the team that Gareth Southgate could select for the Three Lions’ opener at Wembley, with several options available in a number of positions.

This article will outline the eleven players that the writer believes the England manager will pick for the much-anticipated game against the Vatreni.

Goalkeeper: Jordan Pickford

Southgate handed Jordan Pickford his international debut back in November 2017, and the Everton stopper has featured prominently for England ever since. Pickford played a key role at the 2018 World Cup and is clearly well trusted by his manager, so he should get the nod over Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson.

Right-back: Kyle Walker

It has been well documented that the Three Lions have a plethora of options to choose from in the right-back berth, even after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury, meaning that this will be a difficult decision for Southgate to make.

Manchester City’s Kyle Walker is arguably more defensive-minded than both Reece James and Kieran Trippier, so it is likely that he will be selected to combat Croatia’s offensive threat. The 31-year-old is one of the most experienced players in England’s squad and can also operate within a back three if required.

Centre-backs: John Stones and Tyrone Mings

Walker’s club teammate John Stones should slot into England’s defence after enjoying a successful 2020/21 season with Man City. The Barnsley-born centre-back netted his first two international goals three years ago in Russia, so Three Lions fans will be hoping that he can impress again at a major tournament.

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire would be the obvious partner for Stones in the heart of defence had it not been for the ankle injury he sustained towards the end of the domestic season, which ruled him out of both warm-up games. Earlier this week, Maguire was able to join team training, but there are still doubts over whether he is capable of playing on Sunday.

Southgate could take a risk and start the 28-year-old, but he is probably more likely to utilise his other options. Ben White impressed against Austria and Romania and was called up as a result, however, left-footed centre-back Tyrone Mings might be favoured over him and Conor Coady to ensure that the backline is well-balanced.

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Left-back: Ben Chilwell

The fight between Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw for the left-back spot in this England team is certainly not an easy one to call, as both players performed admirably during the 2020/21 season for their respective clubs. It is expected that for the opener against Croatia, Southgate will opt for Chilwell, who recently won the UEFA Champions League, to conclude his first campaign at Chelsea.

Central midfielders: Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham

Shielding the Three Lions’ back four on Sunday will almost certainly be West Ham United’s Declan Rice, who was a vital cog in the Hammers machine as they finished 6th in the Premier League. At the fairly young age of 22, Rice has already racked up 17 senior England caps, so there should be no concerns from fans regarding his capabilities.

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Southgate could select defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips alongside Rice to provide some extra protection for the backline, but the Leeds United man only featured for 45 minutes across England’s two warm-up matches.

One player who featured more prominently in the Austria and Romania games was box-to-box midfielder Jude Bellingham, who recently impressed in his debut season with German giants Borussia Dortmund. Euro 2020 could be a breakthrough tournament for the 17-year-old if he is afforded the game time.

Attacking midfielder: Mason Mount

Creative midfielder Mason Mount is very likely to start Sunday’s match having recently played a key role as his boyhood club Chelsea lifted the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Man City. Mount has been one of the Blues’ most consistent players over the last two seasons, and he started all three of England’s World Cup qualifiers in March, which demonstrated how highly Southgate rates him.

Wide men: Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden

It would not be unfair to say that attacker Raheem Sterling had an indifferent season with Man City despite the overall team’s success, but he is still set to feature heavily in Southgate’s plans for this summer. The 27-year-old is hugely experienced on the international stage, having represented England at the previous three major tournaments, and he should link up nicely with club teammate Phil Foden.

Stockport-born Foden has been brought into Man City’s first-team picture gradually by Pep Guardiola over the last four years, and the last term was his most successful yet as he helped take the club to their first-ever Champions League final. Foden’s ability to glide past defenders and pick out his teammates could be valuable for the Three Lions as they aim to reach the latter stages of the tournament.

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If starting Sterling and Foden together, England will have the option of switching the pair’s positions at any time in a match, as both are capable of playing on either flank. Jack Grealish also has a good claim for a starting role, having impressed in both warm-up friendlies, but Southgate is more likely to use the Aston Villa man as an option off the bench.

Striker: Harry Kane

England captain Harry Kane is certain to play every match at this tournament – provided he stays fit – after topping the goals and assists charts in the Premier League at the end of the 2020/21 season. The 27-year-old won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup, and he will undoubtedly be aspiring to collect the award at Euro 2020, too, as the Three Lions strive for success.