The Race to Face Croatia: Stones mistake was a ‘masterstroke’

Defender shows resilience, while Alexander-Arnold’s ‘brilliant response’ brings him back into England reckoning.

With nothing more on the international front until June friendlies against Austria and Romania, Gareth Southgate will spend the rest of the season wincing every time a potential England player crashes to the turf clutching something.

But who are the 11 players he will be keeping the keenest eye on?

Ahead of the Euros opener against Croatia on June 13, Planet Sport continues its weekly look at England's starting XI, as predicted by the Sky Bet odds.

Goalkeeper

Jordan Pickford (8/13 via Sky Bet to start against Croatia)

Pickford is expected to return to training this week according to Carlo Ancelotti. But perhaps the best thing he can do if he wants to cement his place in the starting line up against Croatia is to remain on the sidelines. He has become a much better keeper for England while he hasn't been playing.

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Nick Pope (5/2)

And that is because Pope failed his first big test. And it wasn't even that much of a test, it was Poland. And it wasn't even about his goalkeeping skills, it was about his distribution.

He had so little to do against San Marino, Albania and Poland that his ball-playing skills were the only thing anyone could judge him on. And John Stones gave him a two.

Defenders

Harry Maguire (1/8 via Sky Bet from 1/5)

His open goal miss against AC Milan is consigned to history, Maguire is now a penalty box predator. He's nailed on to start against Croatia.

John Stones (1/5 from 1/3)

Losing possession for Poland's equaliser now looks to have been a masterstroke from Stones.

For rather than concentrate on his defensive fragility, all anyone can talk about is his new-found resilience. And all he had to do to achieve this metamorphosis was head a corner back at the far post.

Luke Shaw (4/6 from 8/11)

Didn't feature against Poland but contributed to Man United's winning goal against Brighton at the weekend and seems to be timing his run to perfection - if Gareth Southgate opts for four at the back.

Kyle Walker (4/5 from 5/6)

His main contribution against Poland was to show a quick turn of speed to usher the ball out of play after Kamil Grosicki had earned a pocket of space on the left. Grosicki, remember, is a player who can't get a sniff of a game for West Brom (which admittedly sounded a lot before the Baggies tanked Chelsea at the weekend).

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Trent Alexander-Arnold (11/8)

The fact that Southgate is pretty much choosing the right players means that when he does something even mildly controversial (it wasn't) like leaving out Alexander-Arnold the tabloids pounce.

England's fourth choice right-back was back to his marauding best against Arsenal at the weekend, making four key passes and providing an assist in the 3-0 win.

Darren Lewis of the Mirror felt it was a "brilliant response" to his England omission while Nick Ames of the Guardian said it was "an advertisement for his effectiveness at the highest stage".

The Press are certainly in his corner and his club manager is fan. Now it is just a matter of convincing Southgate.

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Ben Chilwell (6/4 from 11/8)

Chilwell would have been glad to have escaped Chelsea's humbling at the hands of West Brom at the weekend having been confined to a bench role. However, he is drifting in the odds despite having got the nod ahead of Luke Shaw to face Poland.

His conversion to a wing-back role at Stamford Bridge does offer Southgate options, though.

READ MORE: Top ten players better for England than their clubs

Midfielders

Mason Mount (1/5 from 8/15 via Sky Bet)

The recent World Cup qualifiers have pushed Mount to the top of the midfield pecking order and despite worries about his fitness he was once again a key figure as England edged past Poland.

Finding pockets of space on the left-hand side of the midfield, he provides a crucial link between the defence and attack.

Coming off the bench against West Brom on Saturday, he was one of the few Blues players to emerge with any credit, briefly sparking hopes of a comeback with a goal.

Declan Rice (2/7 from 4/9)

David Moyes said "Bank of England money would be required" to prize Rice from West Ham in the transfer window.

As statements of intent goes it's not great as he doesn't add a figure but Moyes was quick to realise his mistake, adding: "and you might even need to add Bank of Scotland on to that as well".

Sorted. Moyes clearly knows that buying anything in England with a Scottish note is pretty much impossible. Rice is going nowhere.

Apart from to the Euros that is.

Yes, he may be in a protective knee brace and yes he's been ruled out indefinitely pending doctor's reports. But he posted a pic on Twitter with his thumb up so that's good enough for me.

He's going to start against Croatia and he's probably going to add a few million Scottish notes to his value in the process.

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Phil Foden (6/5 from 5/4)

Wasted a decent chance against Poland but didn't waste a single pass. Provided the energy and spark and even took the corner for the match-winner.

His Iceland misdemeanours have long since been forgotten. By Southgate at least.

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Jordan Henderson (11/8 from 11/10)

Jurgen Klopp has "no idea" if Henderson will be fit for the Euros. He's not a doctor apparently. I'm cancelling my consultation with J Klopp scheduled for next Monday.

Kalvin Phillips (6/4 from 6/1)

He was a 14/1 shot to start the Euros opener three weeks ago. However, he must fancy his chances after Southgate used two holding midfielders against San Marino and Albania. He'll probably need six against Croatia.

Jack Grealish (7/4)

Still on the sidelines for Aston Villa, he needs a stunning end to the season to force his way back into England's starting XI.

There are even worries he might not get in the squad at all.

This is the player, remember, who ran the show in England's Nations League defeat to Belgium in November.

Gareth wouldn't not take him. Would he?

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Forwards

Harry Kane (1/6 via Sky Bet)

Added two to his goal tally against Newcastle at the weekend but worries still remain about his robust challenges.

His tackle on Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny during the World Cup qualifier was deserving of at least a booking. He may not be so lucky in the summer.

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Raheem Sterling (1/5 from 1/3)

Sterling has started all 16 competitive England games for which he's been available since the 2018 World Cup. Next.

Marcus Rashford (11/10)

Rashford seems to have sneaked his way into the starting XI on the basis of being less injured than Jadon Sancho.

He limped off during Manchester United's win over Brighton having scored the home side's equaliser and is struggling to put a consistent run of games together.

However, it is no longer a straight fight between him and Sancho to be the third man in England's attack, with Mount having pushed his claims against Poland.

Much will depend on how he finishes the season for United.

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Jadon Sancho (9/4 from 10/11)

Sancho looks set to miss both legs of Borussia Dortmund's Champions League clash with Manchester City and hasn't played a full 90 minutes for England since 2019.

It's getting to the point where he might not just be sliding out of the starting XI but the squad altogether.

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