Euro 2020: England fans warned team will not be filled with attacking talent like ‘fantasy football’

Steve Holland has reminded fans and pundits alike that picking a starting line-up from England’s wealth of attacking talent is not like ‘fantasy football’ and warned of the pitfalls of an unbalanced team.

As preparations ramp up for Sunday’s Euro 2020 group opener against Croatia, speculation over who Gareth Southgate will select for the Wembley fixture intensifies, with fierce competition for places.

Southgate and Holland have been able to draw from one of England’s strongest talent pools in decades, particularly in forward positions, with Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden all hoping – but not guaranteed – to start.

Holland revealed on Friday that the England staff have now settled on the XI to face Croatia but suggested that Sunday’s line-up will compromise at least some of that attacking talent in exchange for greater balance.

The England assistant, who has worked alongside Southgate since his time in charge of the under-21s, used the example of Argentina at the most recent World Cup to illustrate how a squad full of attacking talent cannot simply go all-out-attack.

“It is nice to be involved in a team where so many people have got an interest and a view. One day I will be involved with a team that nobody cares about and I will know I’m in trouble,” he said.

“I would say only this, going back to the World Cup in 2018, for example, Argentina, they had [Paulo] Dybala, [Angel] Di Maria, [Sergio] Aguero, [Gonzalo] Higuain, Lionel Messi.

“[Mauro] Icardi didn’t make the squad. So you have an amazing array of talent, but they went out in the round of 16 averaging three goals against every game.

“This is not fantasy football. It is nice to play that game, but you can’t just throw four or five players together.

“What that team showed is that if you try to cram too many in you don’t even get the best of the individuals that if you play with fewer, they can provide. So our challenge is clear, we have to find the right balance.”

Even so, Holland insists this tournament will be a squad game and substitutes will be more important than ever, after a long and gruelling season affected by the pandemic. Managers will be able to use five substitutions at Euro 2020, with a sixth in extra time

“The five subs I think is a good idea. I think the five subs could be good for us,” he said. “Never more than now has the importance of starters and finishers to the game – it’s highly likely that 16 players will be involved in most games.

“I think that will be an important factor to watch as the tournament evolves, not just with England, but with all the teams once the game gets to that 50-60 minute mark.

“The different approaches of the different coaches towards refreshing certain positions, that can inject a different level of life into the game in the latter periods, but can also preserve some of your players for later in the tournament.

“You are trying to find ways of navigating the realities of what’s immediately ahead of you. If you get too far ahead you are in trouble, but always there’s that little bit of an eye on what you know is coming.

“Having that flexibility to have the extra changes is a positive and it will become a skill definitely for the coaches.”

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