With Manchester City crowned Premier League winners and Liverpool having lifted the Champions League, the attention now moves to the close season and international football. In addition to the usual EPL and European competitions next year, there is also the Euro 2020 tournament in the summer that England is bidding to qualify for so the team can build on the promise of last summer’s World Cup.
England have started well in their qualifying group, which they are expected to make it out of comfortably by those offering tips on Euro 2020. Their first two Group A matches yielded a 5-0 Wembley win over the Czech Republic and a 1-5 away victory against Montenegro, which already suggests that securing one of the two available qualifying spots will not present that much difficulty. They do not play another game in the group until September, when they take on second-placed Bulgaria at Wembley, but they already have a four-point lead in the table.
In the past England often eased their way through unchallenging qualifying groups only to be found wanting in the actual tournaments when they came up against real quality opposition, but the performance in the 2018 World Cup suggested they could move past that at last. Many of those who starred for their country in that tournament – including Everton’s Jordan Pickford, Leicester City defender Harry Maguire and Harry Kane of Tottenham remain key parts of the England Euro 2020 squad.
After his superb performances at the World Cup, Maguire enjoyed another strong season with Leicester City that has seen both Manchester clubs linked with a move for him. Kane was hampered by injury, but is an automatic starter for his country now, with Pickford being the only one of the three that there remains some doubts about. He made some errors in important matches, notably the Merseyside derby, and his distribution is still poor which can be a problem in possession-based international football.
Gareth Southgate has brought Tom Heaton, the goalkeeper for Burnley, back into the squad – which suggests he is not totally sure about Pickford either. West Ham defensive midfielder Declan Rice has also received his first call-up to the squad after a superb season for his club and has a good chance of playing for his chosen country for the first time in the September game against Belgium.
Assuming they qualify, England will go into Euro 2020 in a very different position. Hopes were at an all-time low ahead of the World Cup, but the semi-final finish there has restored belief and optimism among fans. The form of a crop of exciting young players, both at club and international level, even has some naming them as one of the possible favourites to win the tournament. There is a danger that this kind of media hype will put the team under unnecessary pressure before the competition actually begins, and England have certainly wilted under such pressure before, but the overall picture looks encouraging.
England are in a strong position in their Euro 2020 qualifying group and are already thinking ahead to the tournament itself. It is important not to get carried away, but equally there are plenty of reasons to feel that this England squad can live up to expectations.