Marcus Rashford insists there will be no club loyalties blocking England’s path to potential Nations League glory this week.
The Three Lions face Holland in Guimaraes on Thursday in a semi-final clash, with either host country Portugal or Switzerland awaiting the winners in Sunday’s final.
Two victories would be enough to crown Gareth Southgate’s side as the first-ever winners of the Nations League and give England a first piece of major silverware since winning the World Cup in 1966.
Southgate’s preparations for the clash with the Dutch have been complicated by the fact both Liverpool and Tottenham reached the Champions League final.
Six of the 23 players in his squad were involved in Madrid on Saturday as Liverpool ran out 2-0 winners.
Reds skipper Jordan Henderson lifted the trophy as Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez also collected winners’ medals, while Tottenham trio Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier will need to overcome the huge disappointment of falling to defeat.
But Rashford believes the club mentality introduced since Southgate replaced Sam Allardyce in 2016 will hold strong as the squad come together looking to make history.
“It doesn’t matter whether you play for Tottenham or Liverpool or whoever,” the Manchester United forward said.
“While we’re here that doesn’t matter at all. We’ll battle for each other. That’s what’s special about this group, because that transition to international football seems to be very smooth.
“With Gareth being an ex-player he knows what it feels like going into camp. If it’s your first time and you don’t really know people it can be tough.
“He’s done everything bang-on and when we have new young players coming into the squad they just slide right in.
“He always says to us ‘When you’re in camp we want you to enjoy yourself.’ He wants it as close as it can be to how it is at a club.
“This is the closest I’ve ever felt to being at home. Basically it’s like your club, where you’d fight for the person next to you. It’s the exact same thing here.”
England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup last summer and, while lifting the Nations League may not compare to the success of winning such an established competition, Rashford is still keen to pick up international honours.
“It is new but the big teams will start to win it and put their names in its history,” he said of the Nations League.
“Then the tournament will rise and rise. It could become one of the important tournaments in international football.
“We’re a young team and we know that we’ve progressed but the best way of showing it is by winning something. This is an opportunity to get to a final and win something at the end of it. That will do us a lot of good.
“Since the World Cup we’ve beaten Croatia and Spain. You can see the improvement. We’ve started challenging the big teams, which is what you want to do. If we can take that into a tournament we’ll be flying.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
And just like that, the 2018/19 season has drawn to a close at the club level, with Liverpool claiming their sixth European Cup after defeating Tottenham 2-0 in the last competitive game of the season.
As the South Americans prepare for the Copa America, Africa for AFCON while the rest of Europe gear up for Euro 2020 qualifiers, Portugal who face Switzerland, England clashing with Netherlands, have the UEFA Nations League semi-finals knocking at the door.
All teams – particularly the latter two – have named a young side and here we pick out some of the players under the age of 23 that you would want to keep an eye on.
TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (20) – England
Not many 20-year-olds can say they were heavily influential in overcoming a three-goal deficit against Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final and eventually won club football’s biggest prize.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s wide passing range, high work-rate and accurate crossing were crucial to Liverpool’s success this season.
European euphoria still very fresh in his mind, it will be interesting to see how the youngster performs in an England jersey. Should he maintain the momentum, England will have acquired an absolute gem who could play a key role in the next two games.
Alexander-Arnold will be up against a highly motivated Memphis Depay, who often prefers the wing route as he makes his way to the centre. The flying Dutchman has been in fine form for country of late and this battle could have a huge say in the grander scheme of things.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT (19) – Netherlands
Still just a teenager, Ajax wonder-kid Matthijs de Ligt shows the maturity, composure and leadership qualities of a veteran. It’s only normal that top European clubs are fighting for his signature, willing to shell out a mammoth amount in the process.
A key figure in the Oranje’s rise to glory after a woeful run post the 2014 World Cup, the Ajax skipper must replicate his club form, which saw the Dutch giants claim a domestic double and a run to the Champions League semi-final.
Fortunately for the Dutch, the best young centre-back in the world is partnered by the best centre-back period in Virgil van Dijk.
Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford are far from their best at the moment, but it would be unwise to dismiss them as threats. Besides, Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling has enjoyed the best season of his career and could trouble the solid centre-back pairing.
JOAO FELIX (19) – Portugal
The latest addition to the long and rather cursed list labelled ‘Next Ronaldo’, Benfica forward Joao Felix is another both football fans and scouts will be watching closely.
From what he has displayed over the course of the season, the 19-year-old could just be the player to break the curse and successfully work his way to the top.
Versatility, ability to orchestrate coherent strings of play, great vision and the gift to play the perfectly weighted through-ball are just some of the arrows in Felix’s vast quiver.
He can play anywhere in the front-line but is most effective as a classic number 10 or a second striker. Keep an eye on his combination with Cristiano Ronaldo and how he provides for the Juventus star, should he make his senior international debut.
His performance in the Nations League could bump up his transfer value as both the Manchester clubs and Real Madrid attempt to add him to their ranks.
MANUEL AKANJI (23) – Switzerland
Tasked to stop the aforementioned deadly duo is Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji, the beating heart of the Swiss defence who will hope the Nations League can mend his broken ticker after the disappointment of missing out on the Bundesliga title.
Akanji was the standout defender for Lucien Favre. Indeed, it was no coincidence Dortmund’s downfall domestically and their collapse in the Champions League started taking shape between December and February when the Swiss international was sidelined through injury.
Akanji is press-resistant, great with the ball at his feet and boasts a healthy passing accuracy. He likes to play it short and safe, while helping maintain a neat defensive shape.
He has often been praised for his mature understanding of the game which has helped him perform at a high level even at such a young age.
JADON SANCHO (19) – England
Any list that contains the words ‘best’ and ‘young’ but does not speak about the prodigious Jadon Sancho is one that requires some serious revision. The Englishman has been one of the best players in Europe this season, regardless of age, and was the linchpin of Dortmund’s attack throughout 2018/19.
Sancho is technically gifted player with a wide range of abilities and a very high ceiling. With Rashford and Jesse Lingard enduring poor runs of form, it would be criminal to deny the versatile forward a starting role.
England will be up against one of the most solid centre-back pairings in the world but Sancho’s ability to step on the gas instantaneously and speed his way towards the opposition goal should provide them a good chance.
The Dortmund star is already an established name in the world of football, but this will be the first time he will encounter a sturdy defence while plying trades for England.
Fabian Delph believes Raheem Sterling has become one of the best players in the world at Manchester City.
The midfielder has hailed his club and international team-mate ahead of Thursday’s Nations League semi-final with Holland in Guimaraes.
The pair are with England after winning the domestic treble with City, with Sterling scoring 25 goals and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year.
Delph joined City three days after Sterling moved from Liverpool in a deal worth up to £49million in 2015 and the former Aston Villa captain has seen his development first hand.
“He’s an amazing young man, people forget he’s only 24. When we both signed he was 19 (sic) and he looked like a little baby,” said Delph, who has won two Premier League titles with Sterling.
“When he came to City he had three seasons under his belt and he’s not that young in football terms but he’s always had the mindset he will be one of the best players in the world.
“For the last four or five years he’s never questioned himself and I’ve never questioned him.
“People always question what type of player he’d be and whether he’d go to the next level but I was like ‘this kid has everything. Once he finds his path and what works for him you’re going to see something incredible’.
“I believe he’s operating at about 80 per cent so if he can push himself a little more – which he will because his mindset is very good – the sky’s the limit.
“I’m speaking from knowing Raheem since he was 19 and seeing his progression. Right now he’s one of the best players in the world.”
Sterling will win his 50th England cap should he play, as expected, against Holland and Delph feels his colleague deserves to reach 100 caps.
“Yeah, I hope so, and there’s a lot of young guys in the squad who could go on to get 100-plus caps, not just Raheem,” said Delph, who has 18 caps.
“But from knowing him and what his mindset is like, I’m pretty sure that he’s got that in the back of his mind that he wants to go and break that record or head towards it.”
Delph, 29, retained his spot in the England squad despite starting just one Premier League game since Christmas.
He added: “It’s frustrating for anyone who doesn’t get as much time as they want. I’m quite experienced now, I’m very level-headed and my main focus was to help my team-mates.
“I always talk about being a team player, I’m a really good team player and I had the lads’ back all the way through.
“It’s always such a big deal for me to be selected for my country. Over the last 18 months we have been doing really well.”
Provided by Press Association Sport