The September international break will mark England’s long-awaited return, after their record-breaking summer. Gareth Southgate will pick his players for the two matches in a week’s time. Here’s what to expect from the squad, the performance and the results.
Between the sticks, we may well see a return for Joe Hart. The Burnley stopper has been a favourite so far under Sean Dyche and would merit a recall. Nick Pope will be axed – although, that’s because of injury, not ability. Jack Butland is a curious one, as he failed to secure a move away from Stoke this summer, amidst the club’s relegation. Therefore, whilst Hart and Jordan Pickford [the only cert] have been facing Champions League contenders, Butland has been conceding to Brentford and Preston. Butland will likely be in the squad because of his undoubted ability, but the Premier League’s step-up in quality from the Championship will not have gone unnoticed by ‘Sir Gareth’.
At fullback, Ryan Bertrand’s captaincy of Southampton, and of course his belter against Leicester, means he could easily play for the first time since before the World Cup. Impressive youngsters include Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ryan Sessegnon. One of the two will get in, at least. Danny Rose could miss out because of his persistent PSG transfer talks. Tottenham haven’t played him once yet this season. Mauricio Pochettino has elected for three at the back or has instead picked Ben Davies. That’s how Sessegnon or Bertrand, or both, may make it in. Ashley Young is an assumption, as he is unlikely to call time on an England career as good now as it’s ever been. Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier are in.
In the middle, Harry Maguire is in because he now scores from his foot as well as his head! John Stones is one of about thirty-seven rotated centre-backs at Manchester City, but would be too big a loss to leave out. Michael Keane, of similar quality and style to the mentioned two, is out for a good while after an injury this weekend. Keane is a player that would have been in but has to be out. Phil Jones and Gary Cahill were emergency World Cup centre-backs. Both may lose out this time. Alfie Mawson, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Ben Gibson could all easily get that dream phone call this week. However, not all of them will. Central defence is not a problem position for England, at the moment. Maguire, Stones, Mawson and Keane look here to stay.
Holding midfield is where Southgate has really limited options. Jack Wilshere is unreliable in every way. Nevertheless, does his unerring talent put him through? Danny Drinkwater and Jonjo Shelvey were favourites under Roy Hodgson, and should be considered. The former will struggle for game time at Chelsea, but maybe it is time the latter is picked, played, and shows the disciplines he keeps claiming he has improved. Jordan Henderson is the loser in Liverpool’s signing of Naby Keita. The England vice-captain’s game-time has been reduced to substitute appearances. Southgate will quite-rightly pick him anyway.
Lewis Cook may benefit from the manager’s U-21 links, and Tom Davies is capable, too. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner would be perfect fits in this position. But, for one reason or another, both are lost causes. The Ox is still out with his horrific last-term injury; Milner announced his international retirement over two years ago. Eric Dier’s penalty heroics are immortal, but his time on the pitch isn’t. Pochettino doesn’t fancy him as a starter, and neither does Southgate. He’ll still be called upon this month, though.
The so-called Gazza position of attacking midfield is another without too many struggles. Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli have started well, whilst James Maddison and Tom Cairney are capable deputies. Ross Barkley has shown glimpses of his prime, too, and would have fully deserved his recall, if Southgate decided to award him one. Phil Foden has certain creative powers, too. Maybe it’s a little early for him. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another that has really struggled for minutes under Mauricio Sarri. Ruben will be another familiar ‘cup-competition player’, unfortunately. Expect to see him in when Chelsea host Leyton Orient in the FA Cup. But when the Blues travel to West Ham, later in September, watch as Jorginho and Kante to get the nod instead. The Premier League is still incredibly cruel on English players.
At the business-end of the pitch, Golden Boot winner Harry Kane will lead England out again, with almost certain assistance from Jamie Vardy. Raheem Sterling, like every season, has started suspiciously well for Manchester City, for whom he doesn’t actually mind shooting. The million-pound question is why don’t we see it in an England shirt? Maybe Sterling, himself, doesn’t know. Could this month see his rotten goal-drought finally come to an end?
Danny Welbeck would have been an understandable exclusion, but he scored an intelligent goal for Arsenal this weekend. Maybe he’ll retain his place after all. Daniel Sturridge has finally been playing, and scoring, for Liverpool again. His return would be a fair one and has been eagerly anticipated for all. Another player whose career had seemed prematurely burnt-out, Theo Walcott has had a blistering start to the season at Everton. The former Arsenal man already has two goals and an assist to his name in just three games. A striker that can score and set-up goals is a piece that was well-and-truly missing from Southgate’s jigsaw this summer. Maybe, against all odds, Walcott would have been that player. He still can be – just not at the World Cup.
Dominic Solanke is yet to play a minute for Liverpool this season, and that’s with Danny Ings [another possible call-up] having been shipped out to Southampton. Solanke will never fulfil all his glistening youth football potential without game time. The same can be said for Chelsea and Everton benchwarmers Tammy Abraham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Ademola Lookman and Jadon Sancho must wait their turn.
As for the team’s matches, they face Spain in their historic UEFA Nations League debut on Saturday the 8th September, at Wembley. The following Tuesday, as Spain face the group’s other side – the mighty Croatia – England face Switzerland in a friendly at Leicester’s King Power Stadium.
The Three Lions are likely to persist with their hugely successful [so far] three-man backline. However, one [or both] of the games could see a slight switch, as Southgate may try a 3-4-3 system, as supposed to his more trusted 3-5-2. Friendlies tend to be better for trialling things.
Spain, at Wembley, will be at a totally different part of the cycle to England’s whereabouts. Gareth Southgate’s players are young, and the World Cup marked the beginning of the road for them. Spain, by contrast, will be getting used to life without some of their best players. Gerard Piqué, David Silva and Andrés Iniesta have all announced their international retirement since their desperately disappointing World Cup campaign. The perfect time for them to be blooding new players is now. England have a real chance to take all three points from their opening game of the break. Spain will be a tough opposition, but one with new unproven players, a new unproven manager, and one that will be facing proven World Cup semi-finalists, away from home. That’s us, by the way.
Switzerland’s visit could turn out to be a rather more dull, cagey affair. Both sides could field weaker elevens, especially given Switzerland have landed a Nations League group containing overachieving Iceland and world-class Belgium. The likes of Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri may be desperate to start, though, given their England links. If 3-5-2 is used against Spain, 3-4-3 could well return, here. One thing is for sure, both matches will be tight; neither will be easy.
September will offer intriguing viewing from an England perspective. Premier League football is back but keep tuning in to Southgate’s side. One never knows what’s around the corner…