After a 4 month absence International football is back and places for the World Cup are up for grabs, here’s a breakdown of Gareth Southgate’s latest squad…
- The squad is taking shape. Southgate picked 27 and name checked the injured Harry Kane, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Phil Jones & Fabian Delph as players still in the frame (not exactly a revelation in Kane’s case!) But if you’re fit, available and missing from this squad you’ve got a lot to do to get in, which brings us to…
- Experienced defenders dropped. Phil Jones is injured however Michael Keane, Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill are all missing. Southgate dropped Smalling in the autumn pointing out the Manchester United defenders average ball playing skills, a good run of form for his club hasn’t changed Southgate’s mind and Smalling can safely book his summer holiday. Keane is enduring a torrid first season at Everton and despite his obvious fit in a 3 man defence his lack of form makes his exclusion unsurprising. Cahill is currently out of Chelsea’s first 11 and has struggled this season, his exclusion to enable 2 in-form defenders to have a crack makes sense, but would Southgate really leave him behind this summer?
- Jack’s back! Jack Wilshere is back and will likely pick up his first cap since the Iceland debacle at Euro 2016. Wilshere is now playing a regular game for Arsenal (not just the Europa League ties as he was in November) and showed excellent form throughout January. He’s since struggled as Arsenal have suffered their annual February meltdown but Wilshere has shown the physical endurance he’s often lacked and merits consideration for the finals- one good game next week and he’ll be in.
- New Caps ahoy. I’m not the sort to say I told you so but I did call 3 of the 4 new caps weeks ago (see link below). Nick Pope has been excellent since coming into Burnley’s starting line up and deserves his chance. Former under 21 centre half Alfie Mawson has been in fine form as has Pope’s Burnley teammate James Tarkowski having spent 6 seasons climbing from League One to Premiership, it all means John Stones is the only central defender in this squad with more than 3 caps- it’s likely Mawson & Tarkowski are fighting over 1 place in the World Cup squad. Finally there’s Lewis Cook who offers a combative midfield option who can pick a pass from deep- a perfect fit for England’s midfield if he can press his claims next week.
- No shifting Livermore. Jake Livermore hasn’t won a Premier League game since August yet here he is yet again. Livermore isn’t international class as he showed against Brazil & Germany but Southgate seems to like him as a back up option for Eric Dier. But with 5 players vying for at best 4 holding midfield berths surely this is Livermore’s last chance, right?
- Liverpool trio return. Adam Lallana is back for the first time this season, the creative midfielder is short on games, fitness and form but offers something different in an all too often dull England midfield. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was dropped in November following a poor start to his Liverpool career but has since settled into a regular start making his return to the England fold predictable. Jordan Henderson has endured an erratic season but remains when fit part of the squad.
- Left back spot up for grabs. Danny Rose looked to say the least rusty on his return to Spurs’ first 11 last week whilst Ashley Young was phenomenal in keeping Mo Salah quiet at Old Trafford and Ryan Bertrand did little of interest for Southampton. It’s a straight three way fight for the number 3 shirt and the booby prize is watching the World Cup at home possibly with Luke Shaw.
- The Welbler is back. Of all this squads recalls none was more surprising than the return of Danny Welbeck. Welbeck hasn’t been getting a regular start for Arsenal and remains injury prone, but with Kane injured Welbeck gets his chance. He does have a good strike rate for England and can play across a number of positions but needs to make this chance count. Dominic Solanke & Tammy Abraham have been demoted back to the Under 21s with both looking a year away from playing at senior international level.
- Kane absence could prove a blessing in disguise. The nations football fans were put on high alert last Sunday when Harry Kane limped out of Tottenham’s game at Bournemouth. It seems Kane will be out for around a month and with 13 weeks left until the World Cup the only way Kane misses out is if he re-injures himself upon his return to Spurs. Whilst the injury is a big blow to Tottenham’s top 4 and FA Cup hopes (he may be back for the semi if they get there), for England the enforced break may prove a blessing. Kane bombed at Euro 2016 after playing 2 full Premier League seasons sandwiched by the Euro Under 21s and was simply out of gas, Kane arriving in Russia from a 60 game league season would have been a worrying case of deja vu for England fans. Southgate will now spend these 2 friendlies assesing his other striking option, speaking of which…
- Murray misses out. At least we can forget about the Glenn Murray pulling on an England shirt. Were this a qualifier I’d have been in favour of taking the inform 34-year-old to grab an ugly goal in Lithuania but he’s not a player in serious contention and is simply too slow and too old for international football- check out him being reeled in by the pedestrian Shkodran Mustafi for proof. Murray’s Brighton teammate Lewis Dunk is perhaps unlucky to miss out- move that filled the BBC live feed but if Southgate was taking selection soundings from Twitter this squad would be 70 players deep.
Football fan, follower of England, Leeds and will watch any game possible (between raising twins!)