The Community Shield is a week on Sunday and thus starts a new season with a World Cup to finish it next July. Here are 6 England subplots to be played out in the club season.
England Number 1 battle
After eight years as the uncontested England goalkeeper Joe Hart now faces a real battle to retain the England gloves. His move to West Ham should settle questions over his long term club future but Hart was poor during his loan spell with Torino. His shots saved percentage was notably lower than his England rivals (at 66%) and the mistakes that have dogged his recent career persisted.
Hart faces a battle on at least two fronts with Jack Butland back to fitness after his 15 month injury nightmare and £30million Jordan Pickford now playing for a rejuvenated Everton. Pickford’s form last season was clearly superior to Hart and his performances in the Euro under 21’s only enhanced his reputation. It’s harder to judge Butland’s form but his performance against France in June indicated he will be back to his best for Stoke this season.
Expect media interest in this contest to reach fever pitch in the opening weeks of the season as the date of England’s qualifiers draws close. Right now I would back Butland to win.
Will John Stones improve in his second season at Manchester City? Stones was a huge disappointment last season, the mistakes piled up and then came the injuries. Meanwhile Gareth Southgate handed Michael Keane a debut and he quickly settled into the England team in the ball playing defender role.
Stones’ cause will be helped be City buying an upgrade at goalkeeper , an entire personnel change at fullback and a fit Vincent Company. If Stones can’t perform in that company he won’t be playing in Russia next summer.
World Cup winners to make waves?
Of all England’s successful youth sides it’s inevitably the Under 20 World Cup winners who’ll garner the most attention. Dominic Solanke wasted little time this pre-season in opening his Liverpool account and with Champions League qualifiers making it a busy start to the season expect him to get early first team chances.
Elsewhere captain Lewis Cook will be expected to start for Bournemouth with The Cherries deciding against retaining Jack Wilshere. At Tottenham (or more accurately Wembley) winger Joshua Onomah could make an early impact with Erik Lamela & Heung-Min Son both injured.
But it will be Everton’s contingent that will likely make the biggest impression. Ronald Koeman has already shown he’s confident in picking youngsters and Jonjoe Kenny may well get an early shot at rightback competing with Mason Holgate in the long term absence of Seamus Coleman. Kieran Dowell will find competiton fierce in the midfield department but Ademola Lookman will likely play early in the season on the wing and Dominic Calvert-Lewin may get an early chance following the sale of Romelu Lukaku.
Inevitably a lot of the Under 20 squad will be loaned to Championship clubs (lead my Freddy Woodman) and this stage of their careers that may be a good proving ground.
I blogged earlier about the dangers of recalling Wayne Rooney. But his form for Everton could lead to a season long controversy over whether or not England take him to the World Cup. For this to happen Rooney clearly needs to improve on last season in terms of form and number of appearances.
One thing that should be come clear pretty early is where Everton will play him, with Lukaku sold there is a vacancy in the number 9 role but rumours persist of a heavyweight signing up front meaning Rooney may go back to playing number 10. Where Rooney plays for Everton should be the position he’s considered for England not the crowbar him into the team policy we saw at Euro 2016.
His preseason performances have been encouraging playing as the main striker and bagging some nice goals, but the acid test will come when the season kicks off- particularly given Everton’s tough start. This one could run and run.
Foden to fly?
Despite spending a tidal wave of money the brightest preseason star for Manchester City has been England U-17 playmaker Phil Foden. Of course pre-season isn’t the real thing but Foden has made enough of an impact for Pep Guadiola to make him part of his first team set up. Pep wasn’t slow to give youth a chance at Barca nor Bayern and City will be itching to see a return on their £200 million academy investment.
Foden may well be a special talent but in his preferred number 10 role City currently have the brilliant David Silva occupying that position and spent £43 million on Bernardo Silva so the youngster faces an uphill battle.
I think Foden’s first team chance will come in the League Cup and we’ll see where he goes from there, but he might just be this season’s Marcus Rashford.
Chelsea kids finally let loose
This is the year we’ll finally get to see Chelsea’s all conquering academy make a mark in the Premier League, but of course it won’t be with Chelsea.
Dom Solanke as mentioned earlier is now at Liverpool whilst Chelsea have loaned England under 21 stars Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Tammy Abraham, Izzy Brown and Kasey Palmer to fellow Premier League clubs.
Loftus-Cheek in particular will be of interest to England having only seen glimpses of his talent over the last 2 years at Chelsea- notably the similarly aged Dele Alli was still at MK Dons when Loftus-Cheek made his Chelsea debut, he really needs to make up for lost time.
Lewis Baker also looks like getting his Premier League chance with, shock horror Chelsea! But he will be competing with Eden Hazard and Pedro, but with the added burden of the Champions League and so many players leaving Stamford Bridge he may get significant game time.
But most surprising was Chelsea’s decision to sell Nathaniel Chalobah to Watford for a bargain £5 million. Chalobah is clearly already in Southgate’s sights as a future star and must now be a serious World Cup contender if he impresses for his new club. Chalobah’s case is helped by Watford also buying in his old Under 21 midfield partner Will Hughes. Expect the England manager to be a frequent visitor at Vicarage Road in the coming months.