Paul Merson stunned by Chelsea star's omission from England Euro squad

Paul Merson
Paul Merson / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Former England international Paul Merson has voiced his astonishment at the omission of Chelsea captain Reece James from Gareth Southgate's provisional 33-man England squad for Euro 2024.

Merson, a seasoned football pundit, believes that leaving out James is a significant oversight, particularly considering the inclusion of Trent Alexander-Arnold, who he deems less reliable as a right-back at the international level.

Merson is perplexed by the decision to exclude James, given his defensive prowess and versatility. Despite James' injury-plagued season, Merson contends that his inclusion would have provided England with more tactical flexibility.

He highlights James' ability to play as a wing-back or right-back, which could have allowed Southgate to experiment with different formations, such as a three-at-the-back system against stronger opponents.

The provisional squad includes Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, and Trent Alexander-Arnold as the three right-backs. While Walker is expected to be the first-choice, Trippier and Alexander-Arnold are likely to be deployed in other positions.

Trippier could cover left-back, and Alexander-Arnold might feature in midfield. However, Merson maintains that James' inclusion would have offered more adaptability and strength to the squad.

James has endured a difficult season marred by injuries, limiting him to just 10 appearances, with only six starts. He also missed games due to two red cards and has not represented his country since March 2023, having earned 16 caps and been part of the squad that lost the Euro 2020 final.

Reece James
Reece James / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Despite his limited playing time, Merson argues that James' defensive qualities and ability to play as a wing-back make him a valuable asset that England will miss. He stresses that James' versatility could have been crucial, especially in situations where England might need to chase a game and require Walker's pace at the back.

Merson also expressed reservations about Alexander-Arnold's defensive abilities, despite acknowledging his exceptional passing skills. While he recognises Alexander-Arnold's talent and impressive range of passing, Merson questions whether he is the best choice for a defensive role at the international level. This concern reinforces Merson's belief that James would have been a more reliable selection for the squad.

Southgate has included versatile players like Joe Gomez and Ezri Konsa, who can cover multiple defensive positions, in the squad. Gomez has played across the back-line for Liverpool, while Konsa has occasionally featured at right-back for Aston Villa.

However, Merson remains sceptical that these selections adequately compensate for James' absence. He believes that James' defensive skills and versatility would have significantly bolstered England's options, providing more depth and flexibility in the backline.

The choice to omit one of the best wing-backs in the business could have ramifications for England's defensive strategies in the tournament. James' absence might be felt, particularly if Kyle Walker or other key defenders encounter injuries or suspensions during the competition.

While the inclusion of promising players like Cole Palmer and Conor Gallagher from Chelsea is encouraging, the decision to leave out Reece James has left many, including Paul Merson, questioning Southgate's judgement.

As the tournament approaches, only time will tell whether this decision will prove to be a masterstroke or a missed opportunity for England's Euro 2024 campaign.