Forget Jordan Henderson - this is Gareth Southgate's dream England XI including Arsenal and Chelsea stars
What the statistics tell us about Gareth Southgate's first-choice England line-up when Euro 2024 rolls around this summer.
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With just two low-stakes qualifiers and two friendly matches to go before Gareth Southgate names his squad for the 2024 European Championships in Germany, the England manager won't have too many more opportunities to look over his players and evaluate who should make his starting line-up for the first group stage game. Happily, we're here to help him out and answer some of those burning questions.
Do Harry Maguire or Jordan Henderson still deserve a place in the team? Which of the many, many options is the right one at right-back? Is Jordan Pickford still the man to stand between the sticks? We've dug down into the statistics to see exactly who the best player is in each position from among the realistic candidates...
Goalkeeper - Jordan Pickford
We'll be honest, we were slightly surprised that we arrived at this conclusion, but based on the raw numbers Pickford probably is the best choice even before you factor in his major tournament experience. His save percentages aren't as high as Nick Pope or Sam Johnstone but he's faced more high-xG shots than either and actually appears to be making stops at a better rate than you might think - but more importantly, the only other English goalie who can hold a candle to his skills as a sweeper-keeper is Aaron Ramsdale, and he wasn't putting up great numbers before he found himself relegated to the bench at Arsenal. Given how Southgate likes to play out from the back, Pickford's skills outside the box are what sets him apart. It's almost like England's most successful manager since Sir Alf Ramsey actually knows what he's doing...
Left-back - Luke Shaw
We're assuming every player is fit and fully available for the purposes of this article, and that means a toss-up at left full-back between Manchester United's Luke Shaw and Chelsea's Ben Chilwell - and frankly, the choice comes down to tactical preference. Shaw is comfortably the better defender by every metric, and also a more efficient passer. Chilwell, however, is far better with the ball at his feet and offers considerably more threat in the final third. Southgate clearly leans towards full-backs who do their duties at the back first and foremost, so Shaw probably should remain first choice on that basis.
Centre-back - John Stones
England's best ball-playing defender by a decent distance, Stones' passing completion rate is miles ahead of the competition and his long-ball success rate of 82.6% is especially impressive. None of his rivals for a centre-back slot can offer anything like the same skill on the ball or capacity to spark attacks once possession is recovered. It's worth noting that Lewis Dunk is the only member of the current squad with a worse tackling success rate, but his numbers are still solid enough that Stones can be selected on his ball skills alone.
Centre-back - Marc Guéhi
Picking Stones' partner isn't an easy task - most of the obvious choices have pretty similar stats when it comes to practically every key element of the defensive game. But the constantly-improving Guéhi probably stands out - only Levi Colwill makes more tackles, only Maguire makes more interceptions, and while he's towards the lower end of the passing numbers, it's a bit of a wash. Besides, the Crystal Palace man doesn't have the form issues of Maguire or the occasional errors of judgement that Tomori makes. You can definitely make a strong case for Colwill too, and we'd certainly have the Chelsea man in the squad, but Guéhi has the larger body of work, so he's our pick.
Right-back - Reece James
The endless debate over which of England's four first-rate right-backs should start probably won't be ended by this article, but we can say that it's quite hard to make a serious case for Trent Alexander-Arnold - while his defensive numbers aren't as bad as one might suspect, he's still the least reliable choice when it comes to snuffing out attacks, and his attacking output is only a little bit better than that of Kieran Trippier or Reece James. James is probably the best all-rounder here, with great numbers across the board, and he's comfortably the best dribbler of the ball - although Kyle Walker does get more yardage down the pitch thanks to his pace. A difficult choice, but we'd go for James unless we need Walker's sheer speed against an especially rapid winger.
Central midfield - Declan Rice
No shocks here - Rice is England's best defensive midfield option and assuming that we're sticking with the double-pivot with a brief to get the ball forward quickly, England don't have anyone better than the £105m man. His defensive numbers are the best, his passing and ball-carrying numbers are very good, and anybody who's watched him play over the past couple of years would agree that he needs to be in. We can find no grounds to argue.
Central midfield - Conor Gallagher
Let's preface this by saying that we appreciate Henderson's contribution to the England team more than most, and completely understand why he's in the squad. He's a fine passer and ball-carrier who's economical, efficient, and wins the ball back at good rates. All of which is also true, but more so, of Gallagher, who has been on cracking form for Chelsea of late. He's an increasingly confident and capable dribbler, offers a far greater threat in the final third, and even makes more turnovers and interceptions these days. Can he fit into a slightly more defensive role than he's accustomed to at Stamford Bridge? We don't see why not. Kalvin Phillips simply plays too little to get reliable recent numbers from him, so we'll be leaving him out of the startling line-up.
Attacking midfield - Jude Bellingham
As good as James Maddison is in the number ten role, there's absolutely no argument against Bellingham, who is simply one of the very best players in the world at this stage, never mind one of the best players in the England squad. Bellingham offers absolutely everything, in volume, and will be a near-permanent fixture on the team-sheet for years to come. A great player. Let's just pray he's fit and firing when the summer rolls around.
Left wing - Phil Foden
On form, you can make a compelling case for Marcus Rashford, but his statistics have taken a bit of a battering recently. Foden is also just a more well-rounded, versatile player, who's currently just as dangerous in the box in terms of expected goals and assists (he actually has a fractionally higher combined xG+A total per game at the moment) and while his finishing isn't as good, he's a much better passer, contributes more turnovers and while they're much of a muchness when it comes to dribbling, Foden just offers a broader range of skills. Still, if Rashford gets back to his best, the extra goal threat definitely has some value.
Right wing - Bukayo Saka
England's player of the year two years running, the preternaturally gifted 22-year-old is an absolute shoe-in for a spot on the team and his role as a right-sided inside forward should be effectively unchallenged assuming he's fit for Germany. A great player with no meaningful competition for his role at this point - Saka looks just as good on a stats spreadsheet as he does on the field of play.
Centre-forward - Harry Kane
Speaking of players whose position is effectively unquestioned - Kane has scored more goals than anyone else for the England team and already has 21 goals in 16 games for Bayern Munich, so it's fair to say that he'll be starting up front. The only question is who backs him up - with Ivan Toney suspended we can't really analyse his numbers, but we can say that Callum Wilson is ahead of Ollie Watkins when it comes to goal threat, scoring one more goal at a better xG, but Watkins offers much more in terms of creativity, with five assists to Wilson's zero and much better numbers for passing, dribbling and shot creation, so the Aston Villa man is probably our pick for second choice.