Sheffield United's Jack O'Connell Could Be the Left-Field Pick England Need for Euro 2020

Like many of this Sheffield United teammates, Jack O'Connell has shone in his debut Premier League season.

However, more than proving he can cut it in England's top flight as a scrappy underdog, the centre back looks yet to really find his ceiling and could even (hear me out) prove a worthy defensive asset for England at this summer's European Championships. 

Liverpool-born O'Connell has been immense for the Yorkshire side in their first season in the top flight since 2007, and is a big reason why the Blades sit fifth in the league table. The 25-year-old has been at the heart of a ​Sheffield United defence that has only conceded 24 goals - only runaway leaders ​Liverpool have a better record.

Jack O'Connell

Chris Wilder has been applauded for his unique approach to the game that sees a formation which involves overlapping centre backs, one of which has been O'Connell.

It is a tactic that heaps the emphasis on ball-playing centre halves, players who are more than comfortable to step out of defence and start attacks. The newly promoted side have blown the Premier League with this style of play, as teams have struggled to get to grips with the overload in wide areas.

With England less than convincing in defence, boss Gareth Southgate may well take a leaf out of the Blades' book in the summer and resort to a back three in the summer.


Yes, England topped their qualifying group and go into the Euros, at least, among the favourites. So, you may well question why Southgate would think about changing his backline now?

Not wanting to belittle the achievement, but it has long been the case that qualifying groups are beset with the so-called minnows of the footballing world.

In a group containing Montenegro, Bulgaria and Kosovo, England still shipped six goals, including three at home to the Kosovans in a topsy-turvy 5-3 game at St Mary's in September.

On that occasion, Michael Keane partnered Harry Maguire in a back four, England went on to lose 2-1 away to the Czech Republic a few days later and that partnership was canned.


​Aston Villa's Tyrone Mings came into the fold for the next qualifier away in Bulgaria but John Stones was then preferred in the following game against Montenegro at home.

Whilst ​Chelsea centre back Fiyako Tomori was handed his international debut in England's 4-0 win away in Kosovo, the 22-year-old came off the bench for the closing stages.

The chopping and changing suggests Southgate is yet to find a truly solid winning combination at the centre of his defence.

And having stuck with a back four throughout the qualifying campaign, the England boss may wish to rethink his tactics for the upcoming tournament in June.

Tyrone Mings

So where does Jack fit in?

The 3-5-2 is not a system unfamiliar to Southgate who adopted the formation during England's run to the semi-finals in their most recent major tournament, the World Cup in 2018. 

And if the England boss was to revert to a back three, then O'Connell would be a practical no-brainer in terms of a place in the national side.

O'Connell has operated in a similar shape for Sheffield United this season as Chris Wilder's men have taken the top-flight by storm with their novel way of playing. 

Riyad Mahrez,Jack O'Connell

As for the national set-up, the left-footed O'Connell could slot in seamlessly next to Maguire with either Joe Gomez or Kyle Walker occupying the right-sided central berth.

How does O'Connell fare against Southgate's leading contenders?

In terms of building from the back, O'Connell more than holds his own against Southgate's other likely contenders to don the shirt next to Maguire in the middle of England's defence.

Southgate has options, there is no doubting that, Mings, Keane, Tomori, not to mention Gomez and despite a torrid season, Man City's Stones is still in contention.

Let's start with Keane, the man who Southgate first placed alongside Maguire. The Everton defender has endured an underwhelming campaign and even lost his place in the Toffees side.

Michael Keane

Mason Holgate has been the preferred option at times and his uncertain club situation has put a huge dent in his international aspirations.

Mings was the next man handed his England chance after a string of impressive performances for Aston Villa following his £20m switch from ​Bournemouth last summer.

A commanding presence in the centre of the Villans defence, he is a ball carrier and more than comfortable in possession.

However, his side are in a relegation dog fight. He missed a few games through injury, but he has been the main man in a backline that has the joint worse defence in the league - conceding 47 goals in 25 games.

Tyrone Mings

Gomez is perhaps the main contender to O'Connell, having worked his way back into Liverpool's starting lineup, he has been immense next to Virgil Van Dijk.

The Reds have only shipped 15 goals so far in the league this season and Gomez has struck up a partnership with not only the dutchman but England's Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right of the defence.

Alexander-Arnold is certain for a place in the England side given his remarkable season, 10 league assists and counting. And if Southgate opts for club, country continuity then Gomez is surely his number one choice.

But that said, should Southgate go back to the three-man defence, the Liverpool man would be the right side of the three, Maguire in the centre and O'Connell on the left. 


Tomori has enjoyed a promising breakthrough Premier League season with Chelsea but this summer's Euros may come a year too soon for the young Blues defender.

As for Stones, the centre back formerly tipped to be England's next big thing has hit a roadblock in his career, featuring in just 11 Premier League matches this term.

So it all looks promising for O'Connell, left-footed centre halves are a rare breed, especially those well equipped in both attacking and defensive aspects of the game.

Jack O'Connell

Much has been made about the 6'3 Blades' defender's ability to build from the back, but his bread and butter defensive duties are just as impressive - only Maguire of England's regular centre backs has won more aerial duels this season, or completed more interceptions. Only James Tarkowski of Burnley has made more clearances.

O'Connell has been a constant in a Blades backline that has kept nine clean sheets this season.

Combine that with his bravery on the ball and Southgate may, just may, have found a missing piece to his defensive jigsaw.

Source : 90min