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Euro 2020: ‘Don’t see any weaknesses in Gareth Southgate’s squad,’ says former England goalkeeper David James

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The Euro 2020 are ready to kick off next week, and all eyes of the global footballing world will be on the premier football tournament. One of the favourites to win the title this season are Gareth Southgate’s England, but there have been some early jitters seen in the England camp. Trent Alexander-Arnold getting ruled out due to injury may affect England’s defence, which will be led by Harry Maguire, who himself missed a month of football for Manchester United due to injury. Moreover, questions are being raised on whether Southgate should have included Jesse Lingard in the line-up.

Also read: Euro 2020 England Full Squad

Ahead of the start of the tournament, former England goalkeeper speaks to Hindustan Times’ Karan Prashant Saxena to preview the Three Lions’ chances in the Euro 2020. James addresses England’s squads stronger and weaker areas and also explored whether the semifinal and final happening at Wembley may give England.

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Excerpts:

Q1) What were your first thoughts looking at the England squad – what did you recognise as the strong areas and the weaker areas in that line-up?

David James: “Initial thoughts on the squad – I was excited. Every England player was asked to put forward their proposed 26. Of course, went to 33, initially. I am pleased to say I was only three wrong – two of them were injured. Not that I know what the squad was going to be, or I was speaking to Gareth Southgate. I think for the first time England have got more than 33 players that they can choose for the squad. The caveat is that some of these players are injured and might not make it to the people. But, on paper, England have got so much talent on the board.

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“When you talk about weaknesses, I don’t see them. My England glasses are on. I genuinely don’t see them. It’s easy to see them from a goalkeeping perspective and is that goalkeeper better than Donuramma, but they are different.

“I was at the game against Austria on Wednesday, and watching it live, I did not realise, but watching replays I saw Jordan Pickford got a little finger to deflect a shot onto the bar and keep a clean sheet. It’s just like Austria played well. But this England side looked comfortable with all the changes made in the game against decent opposition.

“We got some of the best defenders, some of the best midfielders, and attacking-wise, we got Harry Kane, the best in the EPL, therefore one of the best in Europe. We got an abundance of talent in that squad. Also, a mixture of age. Jude Bellingham, 17-year-old, is such a good talent. The likes of Jordan Sancho, Kieron Trippier, Champions League winner. We got a really nice squad.”

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Q2) Trent Alexander-Arnold is ruled out due to injury. Harry Maguire is returning after a month of injury, missed Europa Final. Do you see England defence potentially vulnerable?

David James: “No. I feel for Trent. I did not even actually notice what went down in the game. But when you saw the images, and he was being helped around the pitch, you obviously feared for the worst. If he is out, I feel for him. Maguire, if fully fit, is probably going to start. But when you look at the likes of John Stones, Conor Coady, Tyrone Mings – these are guys when you have seen them grow in their role in the last 18 months. There was an edginess to them in the beginning, but now they have grown more comfortable.

“The injuries you don’t want to have them. But there is more than enough for cover. I would not say even cover – there is competition. Even with all the injured players fit, there is still competition in that squad to make it into the starting line-up.”

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Q3) Jesse Lingard was not picked in the squad. Good call, do you think by Southgate?

David James: “This is the beauty of this 26-man squad, there are a lot of people who could have been there. In the past, you look at 23 players, and then you think who else we can add to make it 26. And I mean that respectfully. But now, we had a squad of 33, and there were still players in there who could have been there. It is a testament to how strong EPL has been.

“Look at Sancho, Jude Bellingham, Trippier – playing in Central Europe. We have three players who can play European games and be successful. So, we are not just looking at England league players. So Gareth Southgate’s selection radar is that much wider.

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“Yes, Jesse Lingard had a fantastic run-in this season for West Ham. He deserves to be in there. But you flip the question and ask who should he have replaced – you are struggling to answer in a good way. Because Calvert-Lewin is fantastic, Harry Kane is fantastic. The idea that we need is an out-and-out striker, but there are so many other attacking, creative players, so is he going to take a central forward position or is he taking Mason Mount or Phil Foden’s position. It’s unfortunate to not get picked after a fantastic season, but he was up against some fantastic competition.”

Q4) Marcus Rashford had injury troubles as well, quite an uninspiring performance in the Europa final from him. Can he get his voodoo back in Europa and get done what’s needed to be done?

David James: “Looking at one final and say he is a bad player is not fair. There is not going to be one player in this Euro 2020 tournament who has never had a bad game. Unfortunately, for Marcus, if he is not performing at his highest level for Manchester United, then it seems the whole world knows about it, and the whole world wants to talk about it.

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“When you look at what we have got in this squad, the likes of Sterling, the likes of Rashford, these are guys who have been playing in European finals already for their clubs. These are guys who can play different roles for their teams. So, Gareth Southgate has all of this at his disposal.

“Marcus Rashford does not need to have six fantastic games for England. He only needs one. The easy one is to have the fantastic one in the final — but even if he has a fantastic game in the third group stage match, and this gives us the first position in the table — or if he performs in Round of 16, and gets us to the quarterfinal — whatever. If he has one fantastic game, and the rest of the players have different fantastic games, then we will be successful.

“The difficulty with watching international final is that we always want the top players to be the best players. And Manchester City have proved that it is the quality of the squad, not the individual that will help the team succeed, and that is how England should approach it.”

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Q5) The semifinal and final of Europa will take place at Wembley. If England manage to reach the semifinal stages, do you see them potentially winning the trophy with the home-ground advantage?

David James: “I have been covering a lot of games during the lockdown. I have been focusing on commentary and on football, that I have not allowed myself the lack of fans to interrupt the process for me. Going to games with fans, going to League Cup final with 8,000 fans, and I was like, ‘hang on, this is different’.

“So, I feel having fans there makes so much more difference. And having fans supporting you makes so much difference. And traditionally, England fans have been phenomenal. I rememeber back in Euro 1996, the whole country got behind England. We did not win it, we got out in semifinals on penalties, but there was this energy around the stadium.

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“Now, we are coming out of lockdown, the energy around England changes. So, do we have an advantage? I am going to say, yes, we have.”

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