International football is still hibernating but with only 1 international friendly window remaining before the greatest show on earth, who might be new blips on the England radar?
The Premier League’s most surprising star of the season had previously been number 1 for York City, but an early season injury to England goalkeeper Tom Heaton has given Pope the gloves at Turf Moor. He’s been excellent for a Burnley side initially favourites for relegation but currently sit 7th in the Premier League.
Although the in-form Pope hasn’t been capped by England at any level with Heaton injured, Fraser Forster woeful and Joe Hart sat on the West Ham bench he could be worth looking at in March.
However Current England ‘keepers Jack Butland & Jordan Pickford have only 7 caps between them England need to spend their upcoming friendly caps on building up their experience before looking at another young ‘keeper. It also means 75 cap Joe Hart is likely to be retained at least in the squad. So Pope probably needs to wait until next season for his chance.
2. Alfie Mawson
After an excellent showing with the Under 21s last summer Mawson looked a certain England call up at the start of the season, but Swansea’s slide down the table looked to have put paid to Mawson’s England hopes for now. However since Carlos Carvalhal took charge at the Liberty Stadium Swansea have climbed out of the bottom 3 and Mawson has been in outstanding form- and that winner against Liverpool may just be the difference between staying up and going down.
Mawson is more a stopper than the ball playing defender favoured by England’s 3 at the back system. But there’s always a need for a strong defender in the centre of the 3 so he might just get a look in.
England will need 5 central defenders in their squad this summer: Phil Jones, John Stones, Gary Cahill, Joe Gomez and Harry Maguire look like being the preferred picks. But with Michael Keane struggling for form at Everton and Chris Smalling seemingly a discard Southgate needs at least one more centre half in the mix for selection- Mawson looks a decent bet to get his debut in March.
3. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Liverpool’s 19-year-old right-back has enjoyed a break out season at Anfield. He’s largely shared time at right-back with Joe Gomez whilst Nathaniel Clyne has remained sidelined all season. Alexander-Arnold is still learning and is prone to the odd rookie mistake but his ability going forward seems to mark him out as a future international.
Gomez got his England chance in the back 3 but Alexander-Arnold looks a better fit in the right wing back role. Kyle Walker & Kieran Trippier seem to have a deadlock on those spots for the summer but if either were to join Clyne on the injury list the youngster must come into contention.
My suspicion is Alexander Arnold will get his England debut after the World Cup and should England lose one of their right-backs Southgate might fill the void by calling up veteran Ashley Young as a utility player which could open the door for…
4. Luke Shaw
After England stunk out Brazil 2014 various football journalists were asked to name a team for 2018- Shaw was a unanimous selection at left-back- but since then things haven’t gone according to plan with Shaw picking up only 1 cap since 2015 due to injuries and inconsistent form.
But Shaw is officially back in Jose Mourinho’s good books with the manager now praising the defenders efforts in training. Shaw has been slowly rehabilitated in United’s first team, sharing time in the side with Ashley Young and whilst Mourinho has tended to pick Young for the bigger games Shaw is improving and is certain to get more chances with United currently playing on 3 fronts.
Danny Rose is England first choice but is coming off an 11 month injury lay off and is also slowly coming back into first team football whilst back-up Ryan Bertrand’s more defensive style isn’t such a great fit in the 3-4-3 system England are now employing. Shaw may just get a look in this March.
5. Tom Davies
Davies is the first of 3 candidates for England’s central midfield vacancy. At present Eric Dier is the only definite for England’s squad never mind the first 11. The revitalised Jack Wilshere looks a sure bet to get an audition in England’s midfield in the March friendlies and if he can prove his fitness and durability will get a slot in the squad.
That leaves at least one and likely two places in the squad and of those called so far all come with problems- Jordan Henderson has experience but has had an indifferent season with Liverpool and was frankly abysmal in England’s autumn internationals. Then there’s Harry Winks who showed promise on his England debut and looked comfortable facing Real Madrid’s midfield of Kroos & Modric in the Bernabeau but since suffering an injury in December has found himself behind Moussa Dembele in the pecking order at Tottenham. Fabian Delph came in from the cold at Manchester City but injury saw him pull out of back to back England squads and has since seen his chances diminish at the Etihad and finally there’s Jake Livermore who’s just not international class and erm may have stolen a taxi during West Brom’s trip to Spain!
So to Davies? He is one of the few Everton outfield players having a good season and could provide an energetic box to box presence that might just be a fit alongside Wilshere. England selected Jack Cork for the squad in November so the need for a productive midfielder ‘with a good engine’ is there. Davies is currently continuing his development with the England Under 21s. The issue with Davies is he’s yet to dominate games and disappeared (with many of teammates) when faced with top class opposition. For now I suspect Davies will stay with the junior team.
6. James Ward-Prowse
If Davies is a revved up mini in midfield then Ward-Prowse is a Bentley- all neat and tidy with some nice moves and topped with a lovely 50s barnet. Ward-Prowse captained Southgate’s victorious Toulon Tournament side of 2016 and impressed at the Euro Under 21s last summer.
But at the start of the season he found himself out of the Southampton team after they spent big on Mario Lemina. But Ward-Prowse has fought his way back into the Southampton first team and chipped in with a few goals in their relegation fight.
Ward-Prowse offers a good passing range and dead ball skills but has a tendancy to drift out of games. But Ward-Prowse has a good chance of adding to his 8 minutes of international football this March as an alternative should Wilshere flunk his big chance.
7. Lewis Cook
England’s Under 20 World Cup Captain Cook is the third option England might look to in midfield. Cook provides guile and craft from a deep midfield position- the exact thing England lacked in the qualifying campaign. Cook is clearly a case of when not if he breaks into the senior side but will it be before or after the World Cup? For all his potential Cook still only has 22 Premier League games under his belt and Southgate has been keen to keep England’s age group sides together rather than raiding the under 21s to fill the senior bench. The Under 21s play a key Euro qualifier the same night England face Italy in March, I expect Cook to play in the under 21s but may get a look in at the 11th hour if others disappoint.
8. Leon Bailey
A month ago he was unknown in England now he’s the hipsters pick. For those asking Leon who, Bailey is a winger for Bayer Leverkusen who’s hit 9 goals from 20 Bundesliga games this season. He’s clearly a dynamic talent in form and aged just 20 has a huge future in the game.
So why haven’t England called him up? Simple answer- he hasn’t declared his international allegiance yet. Bailey was born in Jamaica and represented the country of his birth at junior level but has thus far turned down calls to play in the senior side. Besides Jamaica he qualifies for England by having 2 British grandparents and Belgium under residency rules (he started his career with Genk). It’s rumoured Bailey prefers England but it’s a personal choice and who knows?
If he does declare for England Bailey will find himself competing in the congested attacking midfield stakes; Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling look certainties and that leaves Adam Lallana, Jesse Lingard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Demarai Gray, Ruben Loftus Cheek and potentially Bailey fighting over 2 at best 3 spots.
9. Callum Wilson
There’s always something to be said for being an in-form striker and Wilson’s return from injury has seen him net 8 goals from only 15 games this season, impressive stuff. Now aged 25 he’s quick, instinctive and has already leapfrogged one England striker in Jermaine Defoe but has only ever gained 1 England cap at Under 21 level, so what chance a senior call?
England already have 3 centre forwards nailed on for Russia: Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy & Marcus Rashford and with Raheem Sterling also in the ranks Southgate might deem that enough. If he does want a fourth striker in his squad England’s most likely options fall into 2 categories too raw (Tammy Abraham and Dom Solanke) or too injury prone (Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck). Solanke in particular looks a star in the making but he’s yet to register a first team goal at Liverpool whilst Welbeck has an excellent strike rate for England but rarely gets a start at Arsenal and can’t be relied on to stay fit for an intense stretch of games that tournament football requires. This all puts Wilson in with a shout and of course he has one outstanding quality- he’s not Andy Carroll.
10. Dominic Calvert-Lewin
The Under 20s star making the biggest impact in the Premier League is undoubtedly Calvert-Lewin. He’s notched 37 appearances and 8 goals this season in a lopsided and muddled looking Everton attack. Since his World Cup heroics Calvert-Lewin has moved up to the Under 21s with whom he will be a key player at the Euro Under 21s next summer, but could he be fast-tracked to the seniors?
In all likelihood no, Southgate has been reluctant to strip mine the junior sides ahead of key qualifiers and Calvert-Lewin remains a work in progress of a player. Part of that development will be determining how best to deploy him- something Everton haven’t seemed sure of this season. Calvert-Lewin remains is a when not an if for the senior side but the when is likely to come after June.