With Ashley Young, Gary Cahill and Jamie Vardy announcing their exits from international football, Gareth Southgate was expected to make a few interesting changes to this squad. However, 18 of his 23 World Cup players retained their places. Southgate, in his press conference, explained how he felt the lack of competitive matches since the World Cup meant there was little need to make too many changes to his squad. He also bemoaned the lack of game time England players were getting in the Premier League. This season, England’s share of all Premier League players has fallen from 33% to just 30%.
Jack Butland’s decision to remain at Stoke in the Championship was considered carefully by Southgate, who felt the shot-stopper would “find it more difficult to retain his place”, despite a distinct lack of competition from English starting goalkeepers in the Premier League. However, one goalkeeper who does fit that bill is Southampton’s Alex McCarthy – a product of Reading’s academy. Able to dislodge the now long-gone Fraser Forster as ‘Saints’’ number one, McCarthy impressed last season as Southampton avoided relegation under Mark Hughes. The keeper has replaced Nick Pope from the World Cup squad and could make his England debut in the coming international break.
21-year-old Joe Gomez is back, after the injury that kept him out this summer, whilst the ever-dependable duo of Harry Maguire and John Stones retain their places. James Tarkowski, with two headed goals in three Premier League games with Burnley, returns to complete the centre-back list. Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker and Trent Alexander-Arnold are the World Cup’s returning fullbacks, while Manchester United’s Luke Shaw has impressed so much in the early weeks of the season to fully merit a recall. After such a testing few years, it will be a great prospect to see him back in the England fold.
England’s midfield is unchanged from the World Cup, apart from a return for the effervescent Adam Lallana. Ross Barkley, Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Cork failed to make the England returns they wanted, despite all enjoying good starts to the season. In addition, Phil Foden and James Maddison, of Manchester City and Leicester City, have been called up to England’s youth sides, instead of Gareth Southgate’s seniors.
In attack, under-21 stars Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke have all been snubbed through a lack of first-team club football. Daniel Sturridge and Callum Wilson can consider themselves unlucky to have been left out. Jamie Vardy’s so-called ‘retirement’ has not translated into a free spot for a new striker. Instead, Southgate called up more defenders. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck and Marcus Rashford are the chosen forwards.
The stepping aside of three senior England players means Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are now even less experienced than they were at the World Cup. The current 23 have an average of just 21 caps and 2 goals. Only two of the 23 have scored more than three England goals. Raheem Sterling is the most capped player; he’s 23 years of age.
There are undoubtedly advantages of having a young side – we saw them as England reached the semi-finals this summer. However, that is only possible with good leadership. Gareth Southgate talked a lot during the World Cup about his ‘leadership team’. This was, and still will be, a group of five or six players with certain leadership abilities. Included players are the likes of Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph. The role that these players play, both on and off the pitch, is key if England are to pick up where they left off, this month.
This was a loyal squad selection from the manager. We shall see how it pans out…