Sportsmail's experts pick their England starting XI to face Croatia

Should Gareth Southgate go with three at the back again? Who plays in support of Harry Kane in attack? And has 17-year-old Jude Bellingham done enough for a shock inclusion? Our experts pick their England starting XI to face Croatia at Euro 2020

  • Gareth Southgate says he knows his starting XI, bar one, for the Croatia game 
  • The England manager’s first team of the tournament has caused much debate 
  • The overall formation is up in the air, as is the make-up of the defence in general 
  • There are also question marks surrounding the central combination in midfield 
  • Sportsmail’s writers took up the challenge and decided to pick their own teams 
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.

England manager Gareth Southgate raised eyebrows when he said he knew his starting XI for the Croatia clash on Sunday ‘except maybe one’.  

That ‘one’ is expected to be in attack, though there are question marks surrounding the line-up all over the pitch.   

So Sportsmail’s writers took up the challenge and picked their own teams — delivering a few surprises themselves.

England manager Gareth Southgate says he knows 10 of his starting XI for the Croatia clash 

Raheem Sterling is now an experienced member of the squad – but will he start on Sunday? 


Jordan Pickford, with his 31 caps to Dean Henderson’s one and Sam Johnstone’s one, is the best bet in goal.

I’d love Harry Maguire to start in defence but it seems we’re going to have to wait for him to regain full fitness. 

So with Maguire absent against Croatia, I’ve gone with Tyrone Mings alongside John Stones.

It isn’t as formidable a partnership as Maguire and Stones would be, so that’s where Declan Rice comes in. He can provide any necessary protection in deep midfield.

Kyle Walker has been exceptional for Manchester City and Luke Shaw the same for Manchester United, so they’re my full backs. Phil Foden simply must start, so he’s got my left wing spot. 

On the right is Marcus Rashford. Mason Mount wouldn’t let his country down in midfield and nor would that confident 17-year-old Jude Bellingham.

In attack is the one and only Harry Kane. Or ‘Sir’ Harry as he’ll become known if he can guide England to Euros glory.

Marcus Rashford is also not assured of a starting spot, but he gets in Chris Sutton’s XI 


So I have caved in. After championing a back four for weeks, the sight of England defending so uneasily against Austria and Romania has terrified me into some back-pedalling.

Remember, this is a team picked for game one and the thing England cannot afford to do is lose. A draw is fine. Defeat is disaster. 

So this is a time for a little caution and a back three with two holding players ahead of them will give England more protection against the most dangerous team in the group. 

Jude Bellingham would make history if he features against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday 

Tyrone Mings has played himself out of this team during the last two games while the full backs pick themselves.

Jude Bellingham gets the nod ahead of Kalvin Phillips for the spot next to Declan Rice because he has been excellent every time I have seen him play, whether that be for England or Borussia Dortmund. 

The Chilwell/Mount axis down the left of this team excites me after seeing them do so well for Chelsea in the Champions League final, while Jack Grealish simply cannot be left out on form. 

Sterling, Rashford, Sancho, Foden on the bench? Decent that.


Gareth Southgate’s biggest puzzle as he finalises his selection this week is likely to revolve around the team shape, an issue exacerbated by the injury problems that could rule Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson out of the bulk of the tournament.

While the temptation to shore up the potentially leaky defence that struggled against Romania last Sunday is a strong one, going with a back four enables Southgate to get more of his most dangerous attacking players into the team — specifically Mason Mount and Phil Foden.

I’d also like to see Jude Bellingham involved — and suspect he will be before the end of the tournament — but a centre-back pairing of Stones and Coady requires two sentries to protect them in Rice and Phillips. 

Sterling’s selection on the right ahead of Grealish and Rashford is the most contentious but, in a young side, his experience of three major tournaments could prove vital.


With first-choice centre back Harry Maguire missing, it makes sense for Southgate to consider a three-man defensive unit in search of greater stability. 

Walker and Stones appear certain to start regardless of formation, with Conor Coady the frontrunner to join them in defence.

Reece James is exceptional and should start, while his Chelsea colleague Ben Chilwell is slightly ahead of Luke Shaw on the opposite flank. 

Kyle Walker (R) appears certain to start in defence, regardless of what formation England play

Declan Rice is another who is almost nailed on to start and should be alongside close friend Mason Mount, who has the maturity and discipline to play in central midfield.

The big call is over Raheem Sterling. Southgate is immensely loyal and should select the Manchester City star alongside Harry Kane and Phil Foden in attack. The unlucky parties? 

Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham — but what options to have off the bench.


Gareth Southgate has played a flat back four for most of the last 12 months.

But the time — and circumstances — look ideal to switch to a three with Chelsea’s flying wing backs, Reece James and Ben Chilwell, given licence to hare down the flanks.

Phil Foden has to start ahead of Raheem Sterling, as has been the case at Manchester City recently, while Jack Grealish did enough in the wins over Austria and Romania to secure his starting spot.


Jordan Pickford is in goal because there is nobody else and he’s ‘never let England down’.

Reece James is the best full back in the country now that Trent Alexander-Arnold is out, while Ben Chilwell is superior to Luke Shaw.

The first flaw (in my own team) is at centre half alongside John Stones.

Harry Maguire is injured and I can’t trust Conor Coady or Tyrone Mings so, reluctantly, I’ve gone for Kyle Walker and hope his club link with Stones pays off.

Phil Foden’s ability coming in off the right is one of England’s most exciting attacking options 

Kalvin Phillips plays because Jordan Henderson isn’t fit. Phil Foden coming in off the right is exciting and Mason Mount is simply superb.

I agonised over Marcus Rashford or Jack Grealish, but Rashford deserves the first hour. If he’s not performing, the Wembley clamour for Jack will go through the roof.

And I’ve still got the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham to make an impact off the bench.

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