Euro 2020: Gareth Southgate has decided on England’s starting line-up against Croatia

Holland warned against imbalancing the side for the sake of it, and pointed to Argentina’s struggles at the last World Cup

Mark Critchley
Northern Football Correspondent
Friday 11 June 2021 22:29 BST
Countdown to Euro 2020: Daily briefing

Gareth Southgate has settled on his England line-up to start against Croatia at Wembley, but assistant Steve Holland says the manager and his staff will keep an open mind before Sunday's Euro 2020 group opener.

Southgate has a wealth of options at his disposal and was able to draw from one of the richest talent pools in recent memory when selecting his final 26-man squad for this summer's tournament.

The England manager has also tried and tested several different systems with England this past season in order to give his players the flexibility of playing in formations with three or four at the back.

Holland believes that England are "settled" as they prepare for a tournament which will see them play all three group games at Wembley, with the semi-finals and final also set to be held at the national stadium.

Southgate said earlier this week that he had decided on all but one of the 11 spots in Sunday's starting line-up, with the make-up of the defence thought to be the one point of contention.

That has now been decided. Asked directly whether he and Southgate have landed on a line-up to face Croatia, Holland said: "Yes. I’ll be completely honest, you are 75-80 per cent there going back a reasonable period of time, days not weeks, but you do have to go off your eyes.

"We talked about the heat, about the physical demands of winning at this level. Seeing how players present on a day to day basis is influential. We don’t just ignore what we see in the training sessions.

"So, although we were fairly clear right up until the end of the week you keep an open mind on that. In the end you hope that you make the right choices, but we are very clear on the direction of travel for Sunday."

Southgate, Holland and the rest of England's backroom team have spent the week at St George's Park planning the setup for Sunday's game, with several different factors feeding into their decisions, which are discussed as a collective.

"We have a staff that all contribute. It would be wrong for me to say this is a me and Gareth gig. We have some good staff with some good opinions. That is always thrown out to the wider group," Holland said.

"Gareth in the end is the guy that has to accept the full responsibility, he knows what comes with that and he makes the final call. But I’m eight years with Gareth now. Very rarely are we a million miles apart."

Like all England coaches in the past, Southgate and Holland have had to contend with fans, pundits and the press having their own opinions on who should play. Given the depth of talent this time around, the debate is particularly fierce.

Jose Mourinho, for example, selected his personal England starting line-up against Croatia while appearing on talkSPORT on Friday, omitting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in favour of Dean Henderson.

The former Tottenham manager also opted against starting Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling, instead preferring to play Jack Grealish on the left-hand side of the attack with Phil Foden on the right. Ben Chilwell, meanwhile, started at left back ahead of Luke Shaw.

"I was reading Jose with his team and he made a comment: ‘Don’t worry I’m not telling you your team, I’m just enjoying what I’d do and thinking it through.’ I think we are all enjoying that," said Holland.

"It is nice to be involved in a team where so many people have got an interest and a view. One day I will be involved with a team that nobody cares about and I will know I’m in trouble."

Yet with great clamour for all of England's attacking talents to be squeezed into the same XI, Holland warned against imbalancing the side for the sake of it, and pointed to Argentina's struggles at the last World Cup.

"I would say only this, going back to the World Cup in 2018, for example, Argentina, they had Dybala, Di Maria, Aguero, Higuain, Lionel Messi. Icardi didn’t make the squad. So you have an amazing array of talent, but they went out in the round of 16 averaging three goals against every game.

"This is not fantasy football. It is nice to play that game, but you can’t just throw four or five players together.

"What that team showed is that if you try to cram too many in you don’t even get the best of the individuals and that if you play with fewer, they can provide. So our challenge is clear, we have to find the right balance."

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