It’s hard to believe that the England national team have had a problem with creativity for years. After all, when it comes to attacking midfielders, the Three Lions boast the kind of depth most countries can only dream of.
Gareth Southgate has a wealth of options at his disposal and has slowly started introducing those creative midfielders to his squad. There are so many players battling it out, but ultimately, not all of them can make it into the Euro 2020 squad.
Let’s take a look at who’s out there.
Dele Alli’s biggest problem these days is that nobody really knows what he’s like as a player anymore.
The powerful goal-and-assist machine of a few years ago began to fade away under Mauricio Pochettino and has completely disappeared under Jose Mourinho.
If he can get back in the Tottenham side, he might be able to give Southgate something to think about, but at the minute, he’s well out of the reckoning.
Happy to do the dirty work, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has everything needed to be a favourite under Southgate… apart from a reliable track record.
There will always be the dark cloud of fitness concerns for Oxlade-Chamberlain to deal with, but even when he’s fit, it’s still not clear which is his best position.
He’s yet to completely convince as a central midfielder, often spending some time as a winger for Liverpool, and he hasn’t shown anything to make him feel more like a backup option at best.
The creative hub for England just three years ago, Jesse Lingard’s career has stalled somewhat recently, but he’s well on track to figuring things out.
Having left Manchester United for West Ham, Lingard has a platform to showcase what he is all about. He might not be the man who racks up goals and assists, but few players are as positive in their play style as Lingard.
He’s still got a lot to prove, but there’s enough about Lingard to suggest that he’s in with an outside chance of making the squad for the summer’s European Championships.
At times, Ross Barkley can look like the best midfielder on the planet. He’s a marauding powerhouse with a fantastic eye for goal, and those skills mean the Chelsea loanee has to be considered for a role.
His stock has undoubtedly risen during his loan with Aston Villa, but Barkley still hasn’t totally shaken concerns which have followed him his entire life. When he’s not creating, he’s not really doing much.
Another thing which doesn’t work in Barkley’s favour is his limited versatility. He’s good as a ten or an eight, but he won’t work deep and will be underwhelming out wide.
James Ward-Prowse has been on the radar of the England staff ever since he was 15 years old and playing in the Under-17s. He captained the Under-21 side for the best part of two years, but Ward-Prowse has never really made a breakthrough to the senior setup.
Once seen as little more than a dead-ball specialist, Ward-Prowse has upped his game tremendously in recent years and is probably Southgate’s dream midfielder. The Southampton star is hard-working and prepared to defend, but capable of unleashing a great pass to kick-start an attack.
Plus, his skills from free-kicks and corners can’t be ignored. Ward-Prowse is dangerous from set-pieces, so he’ll always have a case to be included in any squad.
Concerns about Phil Foden’s involvement at club level are fading away with each passing minute.
The Manchester City starlet is quickly blossoming into one of Pep Guardiola’s most dependable players, but most importantly, Foden is having a consistent impact against high-level opposition. That’s all England fans have ever wanted from him.
If there’s one thing that works against Foden, it’s that he hasn’t really been used in midfield. Guardiola likes to deploy him out on the left or even as a false nine, and while he’s excelling in those roles, his suitability as a central midfielder still remains up in the air a little.
Mason Mount has often been misunderstood during his young career. A lot of fans don’t see what the Chelsea man brings to the table, but Mount is one of those players who doesn’t do his work on the stat sheet.
He’s not scared of goals and assists, but Mount isn’t exactly the most prolific player. What he lacks in end product, he makes up for with work rate, desire and willingness to work hard.
Mount’s ability to play on the half turn is astonishing, but when he’s not trying to advance possession, he’s relishing the physical battle to recover the ball.
A real victim of the level of competition, it’s almost unfathomable that James Maddison has been on the periphery of the England setup for so long.
Concerns about Maddison’s attitude have been alleviated by his willingness to work hard under Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers, who has made it clear that nothing less than 110% will be tolerated, and we’ve been seeing the best of Maddison this season.
With his love for both a goal and an assist, Maddison is the kind of creative player Southgate’s England has been crying out for for years. It’s just a shame that there’s somebody else vying for his spot.
Simply put, if you want someone to create chances for you, there are few players in world footballer better equipped to help than Jack Grealish.
Few players on the planet can ask questions of defenders quite like Grealish, who is an all-round monster when it comes to attacking. His bread-and-butter is assisting, but he’s more than happy to chip in with a goal or two when the chance arises.
What sets Grealish apart from the rest is his ability to have that kind of impact in any area of the pitch. Whether as an eight, a ten or a left winger, you know exactly what you’re going to get from the Villa talisman, who has already flashed his brilliance on the international stage.
If there can be only one answer to the question, that answer has to be Grealish.