Ever since Trent Alexander-Arnold was ruled out of Euro 2020 last week, debates have been raging about which of the standby players most deserves to take his place.
Gareth Southgate has a wide range of options, though none of them are like-for-like swaps. Ben Godfrey or Ben White could be drafted in to strengthen England’s fragile defensive ranks, while James Ward-Prowse, Jesse Lingard and Ollie Watkins are also contenders.
Southgate’s decision may not be that important in the grand scheme of things, but with fitness question marks still hanging over several key players, Alexander-Arnold’s replacement could easily end up featuring in some capacity.
With that fact fresh in his mind, the Three Lions boss will have been hoping that one of the standby players made his decision easier for him by putting in a standout performance against Romania on Sunday night. There were very few displays of that nature in his side’s previous warm-up game against Austria, a fixture that created more questions than it answered.
Unfortunately for Southgate, the Romania game had a similar theme. Going forward England lacked sharpness in the final third with both Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho uncharacteristically sloppy in decisive moments.
The game also raised defensive concerns. Tyrone Mings was rash throughout, doing little to silence his critics. A more pressing issue was Romania’s threat in transition. Kalvin Phillips struggled to screen the defence effectively, with the likes of Nicolae Stanciu and Alexandru Paun surging through midfield with concerning regularity. Sancho’s relaxed attitude to defending was a worry as well.
Yet, amid this dreary contest there was one bright spark – Ward-Prowse’s performance. Featuring for just over an hour, his well-rounded display was likely enough to cement his place as Alexander-Arnold’s replacement.
During his 65 minutes on the pitch he did everything that was expected of him and more. One of two loose ones aside, his passing was spotless. Off the ball he did brilliantly as well with one particular moment standing out. Racing after a poor pass from Kalvin Phillips, Ward-Prowse beat his man to the ball before showing great strength to shrug him off. He then laid the ball off to a teammate, helping to prevent another one of Romania’s menacing counterattacks. This mix of tenacity and composure was typical of his display.
The icing on the cake of Ward-Prowse’s game was his set-piece delivery. His ability to strike a dead ball as well as anyone on the planet is no secret and it should have led to two goals. His first free kick Calvert-Lewin nodded against the bar, while Ben Godfrey failed to tap home the second.
With Jordan Henderson still making his way back to full fitness it makes perfect sense that Ward-Prowse goes to the Euros. The only thing that can stop him now is Southgate’s loyalty to Lingard or a definitive ruling that Maguire will not be fit enough to play. In which case one of the Bens should make the cut… and England will need a small miracle to progress past the round of 16.