The heartache of the Euro 2020 final has barely faded but Gareth Southgate’s England have to dust themselves down and go again.
Just 53 days after losing at Wembley to Italy via a heart-breaking penalty shootout, the Three Lions are back at it again this month with three World Cup qualifiers in six days, the first being against Hungary in Budapest tonight.
The England manager has picked most of the 26-man squad he took to the summer tournament, with a few exceptions due to injuries and absences. But even though the squad looks the same, the goalposts have changed for some of them.
Gareth Southgate’s England are back in World Cup action just 54 days after the Euro 2020 final
Sportsmail looks at the players with something to prove in this month’s three England games
Sportsmail looks at the seven players who have a lot to prove to Southgate ahead of September’s fixtures…
There’s a new face in the Three Lions camp. Leeds striker Patrick Bamford finally wore Southgate down and earned a first call-up to the England squad after intense pressure from Whites supporters.
The England manager revealed that the 27-year-old came very close to a call-up to the provisional Euro 2020 squad in the summer after scoring 17 Premier League goals last term for Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
Patrick Bamford earned himself a first England call-up for the three World Cup qualifiers
Bamford is likely to play as an understudy to Kane during these September fixtures but does bring something different to the forward options available to Southgate.
Left-footed, clinical in the box and more pace to his game than Kane, the Leeds man has been knocking on the door for a while but now must take his chance to impress.
Bamford has a real opportunity to make the back-up striker role in the England squad his own. Dominic Calvert-Lewin pulled out of the Three Lions squad last week due to injury, Ollie Watkins ran out of time to prove his fitness while the free-scoring Mason Greenwood and Danny Ings also missed out this month.
The Leeds striker has been in red-hot form for Marcelo Bielsa’s side over the past 12 months
This means Bamford is likely to get some minutes over the course of the three matches coming in these next six days. Get on the scoresheet or play well, and his chances of an October recall are improved.
Fail to make an impression this week, however, and he may fall down the pecking order again.
Jesse Lingard was one of the seven players dropped from Southgate’s 33-man provisional squad just before the Euro 2020 tournament. He is now the only one culled from that group for non-injury reasons to in the September squad.
The 28-year-old made it into the Euro 2020 picture after his stellar loan performances for West Ham towards the back end of last season. A permanent move to east London never materialised and he has returned to his role as a Manchester United back-up option for the coming season.
Lingard has played just four minutes of top-flight football in the Red Devils’ first three matches of the campaign, but his previous work has been enough to earn him a recall to Southgate’s squad.
Jesse Lingard was one of the seven players dropped by England ahead of Euro 2020
The attacking midfielder faces an uphill struggle to make the United first-team this season, with the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mason Greenwood, and Jadon Sancho all ahead of him as attacking options, while Marcus Rashford will return soon.
It basically means that these three England games are a perfect chance for him to show he can still deliver on the highest stage. But there’s healthy competition in this international squad too, from the likes of Jack Grealish and Mason Mount.
Any England appearances for Lingard over the next month will be precious minutes for him to prove his worth.
Lingard has played just four minutes for Man United this term but could still play for England
Euro 2020 was Raheem Sterling’s tournament. The England winger was the Three Lions’ man of the moment in the group stages and early parts of the knockout rounds, with the 26-year-old one of the first names on Southgate’s teamsheet.
Sterling’s glorious summer came as a surprise given he was a back-up option in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City towards the back end of last season.
Raheem Sterling was England’s man of the moment during the Euro 2020 tournament
Failure to impress in a rare start in the Champions League final raised doubts over whether the winger could deliver on the highest stages, concerns that were put to bed during the tournament.
But Sterling has now reverted back to his pre-Euro 2020 status in Pep Guardiola’s squad. He started the 1-0 defeat by Tottenham to begin the new season but was named on the bench for the 5-0 drubbings of Norwich and Arsenal last month.
Sterling will likely get the nod for the Three Lions this month but the concerns from earlier this year have returned.
But the 26-year-old has gone back to his back-up role in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side
Jack Grealish has been picked by Guardiola over the England No 7 in recent weeks, while Jadon Sancho will be under closer scrutiny from Southgate now he is playing on English shores.
The 26-year-old needs a few good performances in this next week to prove why he should remain one of England’s main men.
Luck was not on Trent Alexander-Arnold’s side earlier this year.
The Liverpool right-back was dropped for the March qualifiers, earned his spot back to make the Euro 2020 provisional squad, but then was struck by a thigh injury in a pre-tournament friendly with Austria which ruled him out of the tournament.
Injury ruled out Trent Alexander-Arnold (left) from competing in the Euro 2020 final this year
While the 22-year-old was on form going into the tournament that he missed, whether he would featured regularly was still in doubt.
Southgate, for whatever reason, has never really rated Alexander-Arnold. Out of his 10 England starts, five have them have been in friendlies and two of them came in dead-rubber matches such as the Nations League third-placed play-off and the final match of the 2018 World Cup group stages when the entire team was rotated.
Alexander-Arnold is back in this September squad, but not without intense competition. Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James have all retained their spots over the summer, with the first two being reliable options for Southgate in the big Euro 2020 matches.
The Liverpool full-back is back in the England set-up after some good displays for the Reds
A plus point for the Liverpool man is that he has started the season brightly with the Reds. The full-back has shown a real eagerness to get forward in his three starts for Jurgen Klopp’s men but questions over his defensive game remains.
Should Alexander-Arnold start some of England’s World Cup qualifying matches this week, the microscope will be well and truly on the 22-year-old.
Jadon Sancho’s summer ended in heartbreaking fashion.
The England winger barely got a kick during Euro 2020, with the quarter-final victory over Ukraine being his only start of the tournament, though he was indebted to an injury for Bukayo Saka then.
Jadon Sancho missed a penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout loss to Italy in July
When Sancho did get his chance to shine in the final, he fluffed his lines. The wide man was brought on in the final minutes of extra-time ahead of the penalty shootout but his spot kick was saved easily by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Since that awful moment, the 21-year-old has secured a £73m move to Manchester United but his first Premier League introduction has been a slow-burner, rather than an explosive arrival for the England international.
He was named on the bench for United’s opening two Premier League matches and put in an uninspiring display during the club’s 1-0 victory at Wolves.
Sancho has since moved to Manchester United for £73m – a move which is yet to take off
Southgate revealed that Sancho could miss England’s first game with Hungary tonight with a knock, but with the likes of Phil Foden, Greenwood and Rashford unavailable – the 21-year-old could use the other two games to show he has what it takes at the highest level.
When you become England’s first ever £100m player, there will likely be some added pressure when you don the Three Lions shirt for the first time since that high-profile move.
After confirming his status as a cult hero during Euro 2020, Grealish completed a record-breaking move to Manchester City, where he has since started all three Premier League matches for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Jack Grealish became England’s first £100m footballer by moving to Manchester City
Southgate (right) needs to decide whether he can really leave a £100m player on the bench
Whether the 25-year-old gets a start for England, however, is in serious doubt. Should Southgate opt for the 4-2-3-1 formation he mostly used at Euro 2020, Grealish will be competing alongside Mason Mount for a starting spot, with the pair playing very similar roles as inside left attacking midfielders for their clubs.
But should the England manager go for the 3-4-3 option, then that restricts Grealish’s chances of starting even more. He would then be vying for a spot on the left of the front three, where the likes of Saka, Sterling and Sancho will be playing.
Could Southgate really justify leaving a £100m player on the bench?
John Stones was another player who enjoyed a solid resurgence at the start of last year to force his way back into Southgate’s England plans.
A brilliant run of form for Manchester City, alongside Premier League Player of the Year Ruben Dias in the heart of their defence, Stones won his England starting spot back just in time for Euro 2020 and was part of a back line that shipped just two goals in the tournament.
John Stones (left) was a key in England’s defence at Euro 2020 along with Harry Maguire (right)
But his City form is yet to take off this season, certainly compared to the way it did last term.
Stones has not played a single minute for Guardiola’s side since the start of the new season, with Aymeric Laporte earning his place back during the opening weeks of the campaign.
The 27-year-old still earned a spot in the England squad but will be competing with Tyrone Mings for a starting spot alongside Harry Maguire, with the Aston Villa defender starting the season well.
Defender Stones (right) has not played a single minute for Manchester City this season
There’s also competition from outside the squad that Stones needs to be wary of. Liverpool’s Joe Gomez is coming back to full fitness, Arsenal’s Ben White secured a high-profile move this summer while Eric Dier is part of a Spurs backline that is yet to concede a goal under Nuno Espirito Santo.
Stones should play a big role this week, but any mistakes caused by lack of match fitness at club level could raise the doubts again.