Gareth Southgate has named his England squad for the upcoming Nations League fixture against Spain and friendly against Switzerland, so what conclusions can we draw?
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Alex McCarthy (Southampton)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Fabian Delph (Manchester City), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Harry Maguire (Leicester City) Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea)
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
Keeping the Faith– Of the 23 players selected, 18 were in the World Cup squad and 4 of the 5 changes were enforced by injuries to Nick Pope & Phil Jones and the (semi) retirements of Gary Cahill and Jamie Vardy. As Southgate jokingly pointed out in his press conference this is the first time in a long time England have returned from a major tournament without talking up the need for a ‘root and branch review of English football.’
Shaw replaces Young- The one voluntary change Southgate has made is replacing veteran left back Ashley Young with his club mate Luke Shaw. This isn’t a surprise given Shaw has usurped Young at Manchester United and has been one of their few stand out players of the new season. It seems after a torrid few years Shaw is back from the wilderness and rebuilding a promising career.
Lallana Returns- Southgate desperately wanted to take Lallana to the World Cup but correctly resisted the temptation to take an unfit player. The creative midfielder offers the invention England occasionally lacked this summer and whilst no youngster he is being given the first opportunity to stake a claim for the attacking midfield role.
A Changing of the Defensive Guard- The one area Southgate has made major changes is in the back 3 where Joe Gomez as expected was recalled and James Tarkowski appears to have taken the place of Cahill. Gomez would have gone to Russia, probably at the expense of Jones were it not for injury. His athleticism makes him a natural fit in Southgate’s system and enjoyed an excellent start to the season with Liverpool. Tarkowski had a mixed debut against Italy but slots in on the left and will contest that place in the team with Harry Maguire.
And McCarthy gets a shot- Southampton stopper Alex McCarthy got his first call up. He won 3 caps for the Under 21’s back in 2010-11 but has been out of the England picture since. It’s another sensible call up, with Jordan Pickford likely to start, bringing in McCarthy to assess him in training could prove a valuable exercise. There was precious little to be learned from bringing Joe Hart back to training.
Veterans may yet return- Southgate echoed what Gary Cahill and Jamie Vardy said earlier this week by pointing out both would rather not be involved given their age and the need for England to bring in youngsters, but both would return if needed for a key qualifier. It points to both an understanding England’s current situation and good communication between the England manager and his players- in previous eras both would have simply retired and been done with the national side.
Decreasing Premier League numbers a worry- Southgate used his press conference to highlight the low number of English players currently getting Premier League starts. He talked up England’s youth achievements and stressed the need for those players to get a first team chance. He talked of the need for dialogue to find ways to get young English players into the Premier League, it will be fascinating to see how Premier League managers respond.
League form not a major factor…yet- In sticking with the summer squad Southgate ignored the claims of some who’ve made a fast start to the season, notably Callum Wilson and James Maddison. This follows a similar pattern to last season when Southgate picked much the same side in September he’d had in June. It’s a reflection of the fact the season is only 3 games old and that’s not enough time on which to base major decisions, but expect changes in October.
Declan Rice has a big decision When asked about West Ham youngster Declan Rice, Southgate refused to be drawn on the issue. Rice is currently considering his options of playing for either the Republic of Ireland (for whom he has 3 friendly appearances) or England. Rice was criticised by some of his Irish teammates but Southgate wisely steered clear of adding fuel to the bonfire, stating Rice needs to make his own decision and remains at present with Ireland.