Euro 2020: England’s supporting cast of players have crucial role to play against Ukraine in Rome

When manager Gareth Southgate names his England team today, some members of his squad will be left disappointed. But Harry Maguire says they are all such fans of the national team, there will be no sulking.

Harry Maguire shows his sheer delight after Harry Kane's goal in the 2-0 win for England against Germany at Wembley on Tuesday night to secure a quarter-final spot at the European Championship. Picture: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images
Harry Maguire shows his sheer delight after Harry Kane's goal in the 2-0 win for England against Germany at Wembley on Tuesday night to secure a quarter-final spot at the European Championship. Picture: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

Southgate has been blessed with arguably the most talented squad at the European Championship, and it has made for some difficult decisions.

Jadon Sancho has played just seven minutes despite being one of the best attacking players in Germany’s Bundesliga over the last two years. Marcus Rashford’s rare attacking talent has only been seen fleetingly from the bench.

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European Cup-winning defender Ben Chilwell has not played at all, World Cup semi-finalists Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier have sat out games, and Phil Foden has lost his place to Bukayo Saka in the last two. The only match crowd favourite Jack Grealish has started was a dead rubber.

READY, WILLING AND ABLE: Harry Kane and Harry Maguire of England walk out prior to Friday's England training session at St George's Park. Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

With “only” 12 substitutes allowed, three squad members have not even made the bench each match. On Tuesday, Sheffield’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin was one who sat out the match against Germany altogether.

Tyrone Mings has missed out too, playing brilliantly in the first two games which Maguire missed as he recovered from an ankle ligament injury but now reduced to the role of substitute.

Sheffield-born Maguire says his reaction has typified the group.

“I feel within our group that’s the team spirit,” he said of Mings’s response. “We’re not only England players, we’re all England fans. Whether I’m playing or not I want England to win and I’m sure Tyrone is the same.

England's Harry Maguire (left) and Germany's Kai Havertz battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 match at Wembley on Tuesday night. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

“He did brilliantly in the first two games, got two important clean sheets for the team so we know he’s ready when he’s called upon.

“He’s a great part of the group and of course we have competition for places in our squad and that can only help.”

Southgate has done an outstanding job so far of finding the right combinations to produce results but he admits it has been difficult.

“We’ve just got such a strong array of attacking talent I’ve said all along it’s impossible to keep everybody happy and pick a team everybody will agree with,” he commented.

“But we’ve got to pick the right players for the right moments and we’ve to sense what will cause the opposition most problems, physically where all the players are at, when’s the best time for them to have an impact.

“They’ve all been unbelievably respectful of their team-mates and the fact we have got this strength in depth.”

Where England have got it most right in defensively, the only side yet to concede a goal in the tournament

“It’s not just the defence, we’ve got a great goalkeeper (Jordan Pickford) behind us and we’ve done well as a team, as a unit, as a base,” stressed former Sheffield United and Hull City defender Maguire, who had two Yorkshiremen alongside him in Tuesday’s back three in Walker and John Stones.

“We have tireless strikers working hard putting pressure on their defenders, not giving them any moment to build and control the game so it’s a big team effort.

“It’s not just the defenders but of course it’s nice as a central defender to be keeping clean sheets. But the main focus is winning football matches and at the moment we’re doing that.”

How England do that tactically has been a topic of discussion ahead of this evening’s quarter-final against Ukraine. The Three Lions were rock solid playing a 4-2-3-1 formation in the group stage, but switched to 3-4-3 to match up and go one-on-one with Germany in the last 16. There are good arguments for either formation in Rome tonight.

It is a flexibility England have probably not shown at a major tournament since Euro 96, when Southgate’s switching between midfield and central defence often determined the tactical plan. Nowadays, though, such dexterity is quite commonplace. Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine also switched to a back three for the first time in the tournament on Tuesday.

“I’m comfortable playing both positions,” said Maguire, who usually but not always plays as one of two central defenders for Manchester United. “I think in modern-day football there are certain times where you build with a back three and go into a back three even though you’re playing with a back four.

“It’s important you can be fluid in a system and I think we are at the moment.”