Gareth Southgate did as many expected he would, re-calling Manchester City’s Phil Foden after he’d spent a month in the dark due to disciplinary issues on England duty in September. Mason Greenwood was also involved in that debacle, but because of a decrease in game-time for City’s neighbours United this season, he misses out.
Southgate has been impressed with Foden in recent weeks, who has scored three times and assisted twice for his club since being sent home early from England duty two months ago. Midfield creativity has been sorely lacking in recent England internationals, despite the fact the team have earned wins over Iceland, Wales and Belgium.
Clean sheets have been rather easier to come by, though. Indeed, Romelu Lukaku’s early penalty for Belgium at Wembley last month ended a run of six consecutive England internationals without conceding a goal against.Embed from Getty Images
Jordan Pickford was between the sticks for four of those matches, with Burnley’s Nick Pope coming in for the wins over Kosovo and Wales. But while Pope and the uncapped Dean Henderson continue to retain their places in the England setup, it’s Southgate’s clear No 1 Jordan Pickford whose selection creates the most controversy. Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti dropped him for the first time last weekend, bringing in Robin Olsen who kept goal for Sweden as England beat them in the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup.
On whether Pickford’s situation at club-level worries him, Southgate was rather upfront about his trust in the 26-year-old. He said: “Nobody is challenging [Pickford] seriously, at the moment.” Pickford therefore looks set to play a large part across this month’s three games.
In a squad that included no new faces, the centre-backs largely picked themselves. Eric Dier, Michael Keane, Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez join more recent additions to the backline in Conor Coady and Tyrone Mings.
Well aware of his extraordinary abundance of talent on the right flank particularly, Southgate continues to call up a number of full-backs. Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kyle Walker are the more experienced heads on the right side. Reece James and Ainsley Maitland-Niles also return in that position. James got himself sent off after full-time in defeat to Denmark last month and so is suspended for both of the Nations League fixtures this month. Yet against the Republic of Ireland in the friendly, he will still be available. To select a player only permitted to play one of three matches speaks volumes about what the Chelsea youngster can offer England.
On the left, his teammate at Stamford Bridge, Ben Chilwell, will come back in after injury and then Covid-19 precautions kept him from earning any match minutes in either of the two camps so far in 2020. His competition will come in the form of Bukayo Saka — Arsenal’s prodigy who earned his Three Lions debut last month.
The return of Foden offers the headline inclusion in the middle of the park, where Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice seem most trusted by the manager at present. Mason Mount, Harry Winks and James Ward-Prowse join them. Leeds United man Kalvin Phillips remains side-lined with a shoulder injury.Embed from Getty Images
Ward-Prowse capped off his 26th birthday on Sunday by scoring two direct free kicks for Southampton; Southgate was clearly impressed. He told the media on Thursday afternoon he feel’s Ward-Prowse’s “set plays are world class”, describing his ability from dead-ball situations as being “as good as any” player he had either played with or managed. That will fill the Saints player with a lot of confidence ahead of the upcoming triple-header.
The forward areas continue to be where England’s real strength lies. Harry Kane’s understudies are Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tammy Abraham this month. Ward-Prowse’s Southampton teammate Danny Ings got injured at the weekend and so misses out.Embed from Getty Images
Raheem Sterling is back after a niggling injury kept him out last time out. He didn’t offer the scintillating form we have come to expect from him in the early weeks of the season, but he seems to be firing now. The same can be said for Marcus Rashford, who scored against Belgium last month and netted a recent Manchester United hat-trick against RB Leipzig, without even starting the match. The Aston Villa talisman Jack Grealish returns, too. His man of the match display against Wales in October was quite something.
Jadon Sancho is also included — consistently the subject of news stories linking him with a big-money move to Manchester, but now reportedly being linked with Liverpool too.
England face the Republic of Ireland, Belgium and Iceland in their final three matches of a testing year both on and off the pitch.