Three more exciting new faces have made it into the England senior squad for the first time. After lots of speculation he might feature following his scintillating start to the new season, Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin has deserved this call-up, and then some. Joining the England U20 World Cup winner is Arsenal’s fresh-faced left wingback Bukayo Saka, who turned 19 less than a month ago, as well as winger Harvey Barnes of Leicester City.
Their inclusion represents yet another small victory for the England youth setup and St George’s Park as a project in particular. It seems every time Gareth Southgate names a new England squad, he includes fresh upcoming players yet to be tested at this level but who are nonetheless established Premier League names. This month, Calvert-Lewin, Saka and Barnes are the newcomers. 203 Premier League appearances and 72 England youth caps between them, all with an average age of just 21.
However, recalling the safe, tired and unimaginative football that the Three Lions played last month, perhaps it is the returning older players who England fans will be most pleased to see. Among them, Jordan Henderson’s absence in the midfield against Iceland and Denmark was quite clearly felt. The same could be said for Harry Winks — also named in the original squad last month, also dropped out through injury as the week progressed, and also sorely missed as England failed to look fluid in central areas. Both are in.
Southgate has kept his word on Harry Maguire, calling on the Manchester United captain less than a month after he was found guilty of three charges while on a family holiday in Mykonos. The England boss said he would re-call the defender if he started the new campaign in solid form. His United teammate Marcus Rashford was also unable to link up with the squad last month but returns here to bolster England’s already world-class wide attacking options.
That array of raw talent could have been even better, but Southgate has done as expected and left out youngsters Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden after their involvement in the Reykjavík hotel farce last time out. Lots to learn for them, although perhaps next month they’ll be called upon. Punishments can only go on for so long.
The goalkeeper position has been a rather weak one during Southgate’s reign, and in fact — it could be argued — ever since David Seaman retired. In Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, though, England have three very capable shot-stoppers at their disposal. Surely this month will see either Pope, Henderson or both tested. Pickford is yet to let England down, but those two deserve a chance to rack up at least some minutes.
A chief reason why England’s wing-play — usually so smooth and in sync — was so poor last month was that the 24-man squad included no left-backs. Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell were injured and unable to link up with the team. While Shaw wasn’t picked this month, recent Chelsea signing Chilwell does return to St George’s Park — his new competition for game-time: Arsenal’s Saka.
On the opposite flank, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker are right-backs numbers one, two and three. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who debuted in Copenhagen three weeks ago, is number four. Reece James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Max Aarons, Kyle Walker-Peters, Tariq Lamptey and James Justin are just six more examples of why this is England’s most hotly contested position by quite some distance.
Besides the welcome return of Maguire, England’s centre-backs remain unchanged from September, with Conor Coady, Tyrone Mings and Joe Gomez joining more seasoned internationals Michael Keane and Eric Dier. Central defence remains unsettled in terms of personnel, and beyond that in terms of formations, too. Whether England will play a back three or four at Euro 2020 next summer remains unclear.
With Henderson and Winks the two most trusted men in the centre of midfield, the berths alongside one or both of them remain largely up for grabs. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remains side-lined with a knee injury, whilst past favourites of Southgate’s in Ross Barkley and Dele Alli have been overlooked again. Mason Mount and James Ward-Prowse are included as attacking midfielders again, but another James — Maddison — will be disappointed that he must wait even longer to have a chance of adding to his solitary England cap.
Maddison has often been compared to Aston Villa’s similarly talented versatile midfielder Jack Grealish, whose own England career got going thanks to a cameo appearance in Denmark last month. The Leicester man may have been omitted, but Grealish is back in the team. Maybe now Southgate will test him in the No 10 position that many feel he is destined to make his own.
And in the problem position of holding-midfield, Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice are this month’s nominated pair.
International-standard defensive midfielders may be hard to come by, but wingers and forwards certainly aren’t. Harry Kane’s understudies only seem to improve these days; they’re getting closer and closer to seriously challenging his right to wear the No 9 shirt. Tammy Abraham and Danny Ings didn’t manage to overthrow the captain last month, but the addition of the bang-in-form Calvert-Lewin only enhances the quality of England’s striking options.
The fact that Southgate sees Grealish not as a midfielder but as a winger is by now an almost universally heard soundbite. But the sheer level of his competition in the wing areas ought to worry the Villa captain. Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Rashford are three of the world’s most valuable wide forwards, and their apprentice this month isn’t Callum Hudson-Odoi or the currently estranged Greenwood but Leicester’s Barnes. If the 22-year-old doesn’t make it onto the pitch in any of October’s three internationals, then he shouldn’t feel downhearted. It takes quite something to dislodge any of the aforementioned trio from the starting line-up.
A 30-man squad for three fixtures may seem excessive, but a glance at the list of players who missed out this month drives home just how talented the England contingent currently are. This month they need to right the wrongs of September’s underwhelming displays.
All Photos: Getty Images