Lets be honest the words Gareth Southgate and ruthless don’t fit comfortably in the same sentence. But that’s what the England manager became when he announced the squad he’s taking to Wembley to face the world’s two best sides.
Out go Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge, Jake Livermore, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Cresswell, Chris Smalling & Fraser Forster whilst Michael Keane may well have been dropped on form were it not for injury. Of those dropped only Forster didn’t play in the World Cup Qualifying campaign but after a string of dour performances changes were inevitable. Southgate was sensible not to make those changes when England’s place at next years World Cup was being decided- remember what happened to Steve McClaren when he experimented in qualifying!?
Smalling was the most surprising name to miss out, he’s been in decent form for Manchester United and their fans took to social media to lambast Southgate over his exclusion and the manager’s reasoning that Smalling isn’t good enough in possession to play the new 3-4-3 formation. I’d say Southgate is correct here- Smalling played on the right of a 3-4-3 against Germany in Dortmund earlier this year and looked in trouble every time he was in possession.
Personally I’m pleased to see the back of Smalling, his consistant selection since 2012 despite rarely being a regular for Manchester United and even more rarely any good has served as a reminder of how far we’ve dropped in recent years. I felt much the same way about Smalling’s United teammate Phil Jones until the start of this season- the difference being Jones has turned his form around and now looks reminiscent of John Terry at his best (minus JT’s prickish antics).
The other high profile exclsuion is of course Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox has struggled to get a start since moving to Liverpool, this could be down to teething problems at his new club, but his England form has suffered as a result. Since coming off the bench to score against Scotland in June, Ox has made 4 successive starts and looked awful in all of them. He has time to adapt under Jurgen Klopp before the World Cup and needs that time to find a settled role for his new club before being considered for his country.
Of those called up we have 3 new boys and 1 recall: Tammy Abraham, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Joe Gomez and Ashley Young. Meanwhile Fabian Delph so unlucky to get injured before he got his chance last time will get another shot as will his replacement last time around Harry Winks.
For Gomez it’s a just reward for a player whose promising career was threatened by a year and a half of injury problems but has since claimed the Liverpool rightback slot as his own. His best position remains unclear, but Gomez could potentially play in the back 3 or on either flank- the left side of a back 3 might well be the role Southgate wants to see him play.
Loftus-Cheek finally makes the step up from the Under 21s after 40 caps within the various age group squads. Again it’s difficult to see which is his best positon, Jose Mourinho liked him as a holding midfielder but he’s making waves at Crystal Palace as a number 10.
I’ve been banging a drum for Abraham to get a call up for a while so am pleased to see Southgate reads my blog! The rangey striker replaces both Defoe and Sturridge in the squad having scored 5 goals this season (more than Defoe and Sturridge combined). But his strenght is he offers something different, strong, able to hold up play and hardworking off the ball, a notably skill set to the raw pace offered by Vardy and Rashford.
And so to Ashley Young. Recalled aged 32 it does show an England manager willing to pick an in-form veteran. At the start of the season this would have been derided but Young has proved a key asset to Mourinho, offering strength and pace on either flank.
Young gained most of his 30 England caps after the 2010 World Cup up to Euro 2012. He looked England’s best player in qualifying and scored 7 goals in the 2 seasons leading up to the finals in Ukraine but ultimately disappointed in the tournament. He often appeared too flighty and easily dispossessed leading to Roy Hodgson moving on for the 2014 World Cup campaign.
Under Mourinho Young appears to have bulked up, adding steel to his game and has reinvented himself as a utility player. He’s keeping Luke Shaw out of the side for club and country and versatility is always a useful trait ahead of a major tournament.
For those excluded time is running out- England have 2 games in March before their provisional World Cup squad is announced. All Fleet Street hacks have their favourite English footballers, however the Daily Mirror’s John Cross has developed a fondness for Jack Wilshere that make Henry Winter’s Jack Rodwell fetish look almost sensible.
How anyone can seriously argue a player yet to start a Premier League game this season is a shock omission is plain stupid. Yes Wilshere has looked good in the Europa League but Europa League are the key words in that statement. The current Arsenal midfield are hardly great and until Wilshere can force his way in he shouldn’t be picked for England. Wilshere is ultimately a talented player slowly working his way back to form but he needs time to do that at club level first.
England need to find performances over the next week with friendly results ultimately meaningless (the world rankings to be used for the World Cup draw are already set). Southgate is at least shuffling his pack to find something better before setting his squad for Russia.