The months of waiting and jockeying for position are over; Gareth Southgate has announced his 23 man squad for Russia 2018 and here they are;
Goalkeepers- Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Nick Pope
Central Defenders- John Stones, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones
Wingbacks- Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ashley Young, Danny Rose
Central Midfielders- Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Attacking Midfielders- Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling
Strikers- Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Danny Welbeck
Stand-by list- Tom Heaton , James Tarkowski, Lewis Cook, Adam Lallana, Jake Livermore
So what conclusions can we draw from this?
We’re going with youth. This squad has a combined total of 449 caps compared to 820 in South Africa 2010, only Gary Cahill has more than 50 caps and 2 players are uncapped. This is a squad expected to do well now but more importantly put down a marker for the next 6-8 years where England’s displays at youth level suggest they will have better players to choose from.
We’re not gambling on crocks. Finally an England manager gets it! The number of times England managers have picked injured or doubtful players for the rigours of tournament football is beyond ridiculous they include Bryan Robson (1986 & 1990), David Beckham (2002), Wayne Rooney (2006), Michael Owen (2006), Gareth Barry (2010), Jack Wilshere (2016) all with the possible exception of Beckham proved catastrophic mistakes. Southgate was rumoured to be including Adam Lallana but opted to leave him on stand-by knowing he’s barely played in a year, yes Lallana offers creativity and something different but he’s not going to do that from the treatment table.
Walker is staying in the back 3. Trent Alexander-Arnold is in after his breakout season with Liverpool and it’s much deserved however it wouldn’t be happening if Southgate wanted to play Kyle Walker as a wing back. The squad needed 2 specialist right-wing backs and Trippier has dibs on 1 place, if Walker wasn’t earmarked for the back 3 he’d be the other option. With Walker moving to central defence (possibly with an eye on facing Eden Hazard) there was an opening for another option down the right flank and Trent won it.
Pope inclusion is a triumph for form over experience. It’s been clear for a while the number one spot will be either Jack Butland (7 caps) and Jordan Pickford (2 caps).So Southgate had to choose between Joe Hart (75 caps) and rookie Nick Pope. Pope has been outstanding whilst Hart couldn’t catch a cold. Full credit to Southgate for picking the man in form when most (including me) expected Hart to get the nod on the grounds he could organise the hotel snooker tournament.
Cahill is a lucky boy. Probably the one pick that bucks the trend of going on form is Gary Cahill. He’s unlikely to start for England and was dropped by Chelsea in mid-season but gets back in largely because he can play on the left of a back 3 and has regained his place at Chelsea, whilst James Tarkowski suffered a dip in form at the end of the campaign. With the likes of Hart, Smalling, Rooney, Milner & Wilshere dumped or retired there was always going to be one member of the ‘been there, failed’ gang sneak in and it’s Cahill.
So is Welbeck.This is the one pick I disagree with. In Vardy, Sterling, Kane & Rashford there isn’t a need for an extra forward- Southgate not picking a forward on the stand-by list alludes to that. Welbeck does have a good track record with England and a tendency to score big goals but I would rather have seen a young dynamic winger added as the option off the bench in Adamola Lookman, Ryan Sessegnon or Jadon Sancho.
Nobody start with the big club bias talk. One thing Southgate can’t be accused of is big club bias- although I suspect Newcastle fans will try. This squad includes players who spent last season at Burnley, Crystal Palace, Stoke & Leicester. Yes there’s 9 from the Manchester clubs and 5 from Spurs but only 1 each from Arsenal & Chelsea and only 2 from Liverpool. There are a few players with serious claims missing but let’s not have another round of big club bias, anti Newcastle bias or ‘if he played for Arsenal’ hand wringing.
It’s a very bad day for Big Sam. I’m not a fan of Sam Allardyce but getting fired by Everton on the day you would have been announcing your England World Cup squad were it not for getting caught on video with your pants down (mercifully not literally) must be a bitter blow to take. And it’s probably not helped by the knowledge your next stop is likely to be in the Championship, ouch.
There are some unlucky lads too. Hart & Wilshere may have been trailed as ‘shock omissions’ but even their most one-eyed fans would struggle to make a case for them earning the call up, but others had legitimate claims. Most obviously Jonjo Shelvey who’s had a great season at Newcastle but Southgate doesn’t fancy him. Shelvey has 2 major strikes against his name- his suspect temperament (2 reds this season) and more worryingly his poor previous record with England. Shelvey has twice got in before and on both occasions looked like a world-beater…against San Marino and out of his depth against anyone else. James Tarkowski is also unlucky to only be on the stand-by list but did give a way a penalty on his England debut.
Bertrand exclusion harsh but correct. Ryan Bertrand played most of the qualifying campaign but didn’t have a great season at Southampton and the switch to 3-4-3 didn’t favour the most defensive of the 3 left wings in the mix. Ashley Young merits his place and offers top class delivery from the flank. Danny Rose is fortunate but it was evident in England’s friendlies he was an upgrade on Bertrand going forward.
The plan is right but there’s one big flaw. England now have a defined style of play, plenty of ball players out of defence, energy, pressing and pace in abundance, the one big problem remains the lack of a creative playmaker to knit the side together- and before Lee Dixon says it that player will never be Jack Wilshere. For now England must make do with Jordan Henderson but finding that Toni Kroos type central midfielder is the top priority for England over the next few years- Mason Mount & Phil Foden could it be you?!