With England on tour in Croatia and Spain this month, Gareth Southgate has named six uncapped players in his squad. Fresh from a contract extension to 2022, the England manager was keen in his press conference to mention that premature international football can be detrimental to some young players. He states injuries to Fabian Delph, Adam Lallana, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard as reasons why some have been called upon.
Jordan Pickford is the obvious choice in goal and he’s joined by Jack Butland – once again recalled despite his status as a now-Championship goalkeeper with Stoke City. Fulham’s Marcus Bettinelli and Southampton’s Alex McCarthy are the uncapped duo that make up the goalkeeping quartet.
Young stars Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez are Liverpool’s contribution to England’s backline, whereas Leicester City and Burnley have one representative each. They are centre-backs Harry Maguire and James Tarkowski, who have an impressive four league goals between them just seven games into the season. Luke Shaw is a rare Manchester United player in the squad, whilst there is also a recall for Danny Rose at Spurs – man of the match against Switzerland last time out.
John Stones has struggled for game time this season for Manchester City, but he was always an inevitable in this squad. Arguably world-class right-backs Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker complete a very competent and reliable set of defenders.
England’s midfield, however, is much-changed. Due to the aforementioned list of absentees, England’s World Cup creative sparks are entirely absent. Ruben Loftus-Cheek misses out because of the stingy number of minutes he’s been given so far by new Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri. Ross Barkley, though, has been given plenty of game time by Sarri, and merits an inspiring and thoroughly deserved recall. Should he reach the field of play this month, he would earn his first cap since facing Australia in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly in Sunderland. Also called up is Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah. The energetic holding-midfielder has made a positive impact in Watford’s EFL Cup matches this season, but has also been somewhat of a slow burner. An England U-21 by 2012 aged just 17, he has been capped at youth level 97 times for England. That’s a record. But what’s missing is his senior cap. He could well earn his first this month.
Penalty hero Eric Dier retains his place after a stronger start to this season than last, based purely on game time. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson joins him to complete a familiar defensive-midfield partnership. Liverpool have eased him into their season after a demanding summer with The Three Lions. In contention for his second cap is Tottenham livewire Harry Winks, who has made a fine return from injury in recent league fixtures. The first of this squad included for the first time ever is Derby County’s Chelsea loanee Mason Mount. The 19-year-old midfielder already has 19 career goals in what has been an already testing career as a Vitesse and Derby loanee. Already compared to current club manager Frank Lampard, Mount merits a first call-up.
Premier League tied-top scorer Harry Kane is involved of course, and Raheem Sterling – on sizzling form with Manchester City – is in too. Usually bit part club players Danny Welbeck and Marcus Rashford join them; both are on reasonable goalscoring form. The final two of the 25-man squad are both newcomers too. Leicester bright spark James Maddison makes the anticipated move up from the U-21s. But the most inspiring story of all is of Phil Foden’s 2017 Euro U-17 finals teammate Jadon Sancho. The young trailblazer has established himself as a more-than-capable replacement to Borussia Dortmund’s ex-number 7 Ousmane Dembele. Europe’s top assists provider this season is a 17-year-old Champions League starter. And he’s English.
To sum up, this is about as exciting as Gareth Southgate’s cautious England squads have ever been. Partially forced into such decisions by injuries, the England manager will be very much trialling out new line-ups and maybe even formations this month.
As England only rank above Croatia because they lost to Spain by less, they need to accumulate points as soon as possible. Facing Croatia behind closed doors may provide them with a good opportunity to pinch all three.
With Spain looking set to dominate this group, England need to cash in this month with the help of their bright new youngsters.