The Star's writers predict Euro 2020 and England's chances
Euro 2020 is upon us and The Star’s football writers have dusted off their crystal balls to predict the winners and losers from this summer’s festival of football.
Key Man: I think it should be ‘Key MEN’ - and this is why. Obviously you need to score goals to win games, so Harry Kane has to be one. But in the warm-up games, England have also looked a little bit loose in midfield. The better teams will punish this, so Declan Rice and Mason Mount need to be in-form too. If N’Golo Kante had been born in Penistone rather than Paris, I reckon the Three Lions would be pretty tough to stop.
My England Starting XI: Henderson, James, Maguire (If fit), Stones, Chilwell, Rice, Mount, Grealish, Foden, Sterling, Kane.
Winners: A much-improved Italy or France, who despite having some gifted players looked equipped to grind their way through another tournament. Turkey are my dark horses and, despite being in the Group of Death, I think Hungary would have surprised a few people too. They’ve lost some key players to injury, though. Dominik Szoboszlai’s absence is a huge blow for them.
England Prediction: Semi-finals - if Harry Maguire returns in the knockout stages and is firing on all cylinders. Southgate has taken a huge risk by selecting him. But did he really have any other choice? Probably not.
Key man: Harry Kane – Even with so many creative midfielders, England still look rigid at times and Southgate's style is naturally a little conservative, so Kane's playmaking and finishing could be the difference in those tight matches settled by a single goal. Also probably the only guaranteed starter given current injuries and form.
My Starting XI: Pickford, Trippier (remember that free-kick?), Stones, Maguire (if fit), Chilwell, Rice, Henderson, Grealish (left), Mount (centre), Sterling (right), Kane
Winners: I can't see beyond North Macedonia. On a serious note, Portugal look like they might actually provide some entertainment this time and France also appear very strong.
England prediction: Quarter finals – England are definitely heading in the right direction but some unfortunately timed injuries and their defensive fragility may be their downfall against Europe's best. I hope I am wrong and we have another summer like 2018. Qualify from the group stage and get beyond a tricky round-of-16 and/or quarter final tie and there's every chance of success. It'd be nice to believe it's coming home, for a while at least.
Key man: Harry Kane – Their depth of attacking talent has been lauded but if England are to do anything this time around, they’ll need to stick the ball away - and who better than one of the world’s top forwards? Maybe one with added incentive to perform amid talk of a big summer move....
My Starting XI (with big SUFC bias, if all fit): D Henderson, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Chilwell, J Henderson, Mount, Foden, Grealish, Rashford, Kane. Some goals there, you’d hope!
Winners: Surely France? Their squad is absolutely frightening and pulled it together at the World Cup. I like the look of Italy too, and Belgium will be tough to beat - especially if Eden Hazard remembers how to play football
England prediction: Quarter-finals – More heartbreak. England’s attacking prowess may carry them through that far, but I’m not sure defensively they’re good enough to go all the way this time around. They benefited from a kind draw to reach the semis of the last World Cup and couldn’t put away a decent but not spectacular Croatia side when it mattered, so I don’t read too much into that ‘success’. As basically the home nation, too, the expectancy will have ramped up - something we all know England don’t deal with too well. Here’s hoping I’m wrong…
Key man: Phil Foden – He's got the swagger and confidence of a player that could rip a tournament to pieces, and he seemed to have come into form just at the right time. He has players around him that he can bounce off and if England get themselves going early, Foden could win player of the tournament and elevate his profile to a whole new level.
My Starting XI: Pickford; Trippier, Stones, White, Shaw; Rice, Phillips (to do a job on Modric); Foden, Mount, Sterling; Kane
NB: There will be a lot of people that lose their minds over whatever team Southgate puts out - particularly when it comes to the attacking players. Teams can still use five subs in this tournament and that puts a side like England in a brilliant position; whether it's Grealish or Sterling or Sancho or Rashford or whoever coming off the bench for the last half-hour.
Winners: Aside from the fact that it's clearly Coming Home, it's difficult to see past France, really, though I do like the look of Portugal if they are able to get out of that group.
England prediction: Sunday July 11, 2021. The sun shines down on Wembley unaware of what has happened below. A nation holds its breath as Harry Kane grips the European Championship trophy and lifts it high above his head. Far beyond the famous arch, beer gardens are full of beer-soaked strangers hugging - perfectly legally - while front rooms play host to the ridding of long-held family feuds. Men, women and children across various cultural divides join hands across Trafalgar Square and sing Elbow's One Day Like This in perfect harmony. Liam and Noel Gallagher's eyes meet across a crowded hospitality box and embrace warmly and a news team capture footage of dolphins swimming playfully in the Thames. Either that or, of course, the taking of the knee is booed, England crash out at the group stage, swarmed pubs lead to another lockdown and Gareth Southgate resigns in tears. One of them I reckon.
Key man: Harry Kane – It's boring, I know... It could potentially be a huge tournament for Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, two raw and incredibly exciting talents, but it just feels like if England are to have any kind of success at Euro 2020 then Kane will be at the heart of it. He's so much more than just a number 9, but I hope to see him further up the field - sometimes he drops too deep when he just needs to be in and around the box.
My Starting XI: Pickford, Shaw, Stones, Maguire, Walker, Rice, Henderson, Foden, Mount, Grealish, Kane.
Even typing this out, I'm double-guessing myself, to be honest. Maguire and Henderson are based on fitness, obviously, and I'm not sure Maguire will be ready - if he's not then I'd probably go for Ben White. As for the attackers, I've written four here, but if Rashford or Sterling or Sancho started then I wouldn't be mad about it.
Winners: Again, the boring answer, but I cannot look at the French side and see anything other than a group of winners. The quality, the quality in depth, and the fact that they've got N'Golo Kanté. There's talk of a bit of an Mbappé/Giroud rift, and I honestly think the only thing that can probably stop France is themselves.
England prediction: Either the quarter finals, or they'll win it... Somehow they've ended up in a situation where they're - almost definitely - going to face a heavyweight either in the Round of 16 or the quarters, and that's going to really test their mettle. I'm not too worried about getting out of the group, but I can absolutely see them winning the group and then getting knocked out by Ronaldo and Portugal at Wembley in the first knockout round. Maybe I'm just hurt still - it's coming home.
Key man: Jack Grealish – Proving the theory that a player can go from being dislikable on the pitch to being an absolute hero once they pull on the shirt of their country. Grealish is roundly jeered up and down the land but fans will be cheering his name this summer when all those free kicks he wins ends up being England’s best route to a goal.
My Starting XI: If I was Southgate I’d just go for it… but that’s why I’m writing this and not wearing a waistcoat and shouting instructions at Harry Kane.
(3-4-3, sort of): Pickford; Walker, Maguire (if fit), Stones; James, Chilwell; Rice, Mount; Foden, Kane, Grealish.
Winners: England… genuinely.
England prediction: See above – Southgate will have this team grinding out results in every low-scoring game, making Greece 2004 look like Brazil 1970, before eventually winning the final on penalties. Having said that, France will probably win it because they’re plainly better than everyone else.