On Thursday lunchtime Gareth Southgate will announce his first England squad of the season. International squad announcements are usually followed by a collective groan. It’s the signal that a fledging season whose narratives we’re becoming engrossed in is shortly to be paused in order for England to take on the footballing powerhouse of Malta. It’s the footballing equivalent of a Theatre interval and the usher telling you the bar’s shut and we’ve run out of ice cream.
International breaks are tedious and I’d be happy to see friendlies restricted to the summer. However this squad announcement is more important than most.
Of course the first subject will be somebody not included: Wayne Rooney. Inevitably Southgate’s opinion and tribute to Rooney will be the headline but not the main event. Southgate handled Rooney well, taking the decision to drop him. Some will argue Southgate has egg on his face for attempting to recall Rooney but all he needs to say to that is he wanted to pick Rooney based on current form (which has been excellent).
Thursday’s squad will be the first of a World Cup year, with a manager keen to promote youth there will inevitably be new faces, with Rooney departing expect Southgate to hammer home the youth message. Coming only 2 games into the new season the number of new players will be limited with many young players thus far restricted to bit part roles in the fledging campaign. That’s normal until the autumn and the onset of injuries and two games a week forces managers to shift around their squads. It means players like Dominic Solanke, Will Hughes, Demarai Gray & Harry Winks all of whom could be in for a break out year will have to bide their time.
However Southgate’s squad will include some or possibly all of Jordan Pickford, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Nat Chalobah, Harry Maguire, Alfie Mawson, James Ward-Prowse & Tammy Abraham. Might there be another left field selection?- Marc Albrighton’s positive start to the season shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
There will be those veterans waiting anxiously by the phone to see if their lack of game time costs them an England place. Southgate has insisted it’s important players are getting a regular game so where does that leave Chris Smalling, Jesse Lingard, Jermain Defoe and Theo Walcott? It is hard to judge based on the limited sample size of 2 games another reason I suspect there’ll be a sizeable group from Everton whose Europa odyssey has seen them play 5 games already. Against City this week they started 8 English players, Calvert Lewin was particularly good although if picked he’d be on the bench behind Marcus Rashford so perhaps would benefit more from going with the Under 21s.
The Under 21’s are the other announcement of the week and fans should keep an eye on this one. The Euro Under 21’s in June marked the end of one squad cycle for Aidy Boothroyd and this week starts a new one. Many of the side that made the semis this summer are now over aged for the U21s meaning a squad reboot is upon us. For England that means the introduction of players from this summers 3 tournament winning squads, a nice position to work from.
Boothroyd has an embarrassment of riches to choose from and the likes of Solanke, Calvert-Lewin, Tom Davies, Ryan Sessegnon, Phil Foden & Mason Mount could be forming an exciting new team. Whilst the World Cup is ultimately England’s goal the 2019 Euro Under 21s should be the next prize England are seriously hunting. Adding it to the Euro Under 19s, Toulon tournament double, Under 20 World Cup and 2014 Euro Under 17s all in the bag.
The accumulation of junior prizes is an essential part of success at senior level. But the tournament is a long way off and England face a tough opening fixture away to Holland, in a group that also includes Ukraine & Scotland. It’s also important to keep the momentum going from England’s excellent summer, the Under 17 World Cup is only a couple of months away and building interest in the face of an all consuming domestic season and an imminent senior World Cup is a tough challenge for the FA.
This week should provide some indication of where England are going, hopefully some progress on the pitch and 6 points in the bank.
Predicted England Squad;
Goalkeepers- Butland, Hart, Pickford
Defenders- Walker, Alexander-Arnold, Bertrand, Cresswell, Cahill, Keane, Stones, Jones, Maguire, Mawson
Midfielders- Henderson, Dier, Chalobah, Ward-Prowse
Wingers/ Number 10s- Alli, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling, Redmond
Strikers- Kane, Rashford, Vardy, Welbeck, Calvert-Lewin
Injured/ short of fitness Clyne, Trippier, Shaw, Rose, Lallana, Barkley, Wilshere