Who is in, and who is out? Running through Southgate’s squad selection
On March 17th Gareth Southgate announced his England Squad for the upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and the Ivory Coast, and, as per most squad announcements, he was praised by some and scrutinised by others. I want to have a run through his selections and decide whether he has got this right or wrong.
This was a fairly straightforward choice for Southgate at the moment. The standout English keeper, Aaron Ramsdale, was a no brainer, and his long-term favourite Jordan Pickford has never let the manager down between the sticks. Despite most pundits and fan sentiment currently backing the Arsenal keeper, I would be surprised to see Gareth drop Pickford for any considerable period, less he has a howler in either of the upcoming friendlies. Nick Pope is likely the third choice for now, further down the pecking order than this time last year.
This is where things start to get more interesting and have thus seemingly garnered an awful lot of the press’s attention, both criticism and praise. First, we have the names we would expect to see in this list; Luke Shaw, John Stones, Reece James, Conor Coady, Tyrone Mings and Harry Maguire. Although, the decision to include Maguire has come with many questions as his Red Devils’ form has been rather dreadful as of late, leaving a lot of pundits questioning why he has been included.
There is an argument that giving him a couple of weeks out of the spotlight could help him collect his thoughts and put in the work to rediscover the form he showed over the summer. I, however, disagree with this. The United captain has rarely let the national side down, and I’d argue that a couple of good performances with England could be the exact thing Maguire needs to get his season back on track. Freezing a player out of the national set-up just as he is reaching a career-low point would send the wrong message to a player that will be important to our hopes in Qatar 2022.
If anything, the inclusion of Mings and Coady seems like the more significant mistake here. Mings is simply not of the quality to play for England, and frankly, he never has been. He is a mistake waiting to happen and has, for the last 2 seasons now, been the weak link to his Aston Villa partner Ezri Konsa, who also happens to be an uncapped Englishman. On the other hand, Coady is a more than apt defender, and he has demonstrated his value in a back three and is reportedly a critical leadership figure. However, he is not the quality of a starter and is not going to suddenly develop into one. Other, younger English central defenders deserve a shot during these friendlies, chief among them Fikayo Tomori. Tomori has enjoyed an excellent start to his career in Milan with his pressures, tackles, blocks, and interceptions, all in the top 30% of players in Europe’s top 5 leagues this year. It is time that Southgate took these friendlies as opportunities to bed in promising players into the squad and filter out those that do not show the same kind of promise.
Southgate has taken a chance on Marc Guehi, the young Palace centre half after an impressive 2021-2022. In the summer, the youngster was signed from cross-city rivals Chelsea and impressed Viera so much that he was promoted from the U21s right away. Guehi ranks in the top 10 of all premier league players this year for; completed passes in both his own and the opposition’s half, forward passes and possession won in the defensive third. Whether or not the Palace man gets much game time is yet to be seen but using these friendlies as a time to bed in new blood is a good decision.
This is an area that was causing Southgate some serious concern only a couple of years ago. Oh, how times have changed. The England manager now has a range of seriously talented midfielders to pick from, and those selected for this squad are unlikely to cause much controversy. The names you’d expect are there; Henderson, Mount, Bellingham, and Ward-Prowse.
The most inexperienced in the pack, Conor Gallagher, has well and truly announced himself to the Premier League this campaign. Following up on a respectable season on loan at West Brom last year, the Chelsea loanee has seriously kicked on under Viera this term. The high energy youngster has got 8 goals and 3 assists to his name in only 25 games this season, a significant improvement on 2 goals and assists in 30 games last year. If Gallagher can keep this form up, I expect he’ll be making a lot more squads in the future.
Likewise, the pair of Mount and Bellingham are, barre any injuries, likely to be core components of the national set-up for potentially the next decade or so. Bellingham, in particular, is looking like he has the potential to be a genuinely world-class midfielder at only 18 years of age. The youngster has well and truly grabbed his opportunity in Germany and displayed maturity and tactical nous well beyond his years for Dortmund.
Here is another area of the pitch that Southgate has an embarrassment of riches to choose from. Gone are the days of picking between Andy Carrol and Danny Welbeck. Now the question is, who is the backup to Kane? Tammy Abraham or Calvert-Lewin? A much nicer problem to have.
Focussing on centre forwards first, it is a near enough certainty that Kane will be at the World Cup and most likely wearing the armband to boot. Therefore, these games are an excellent chance to test the waters for his backup in Qatar. Southgate has gone with Abraham for these friendlies due to Calvert-Lewin’s injuries this term and due to the former Chelsea man’s exploits in Rome. Abraham has netted 15 times and assisted a further 3, all whilst underperforming his xG of 18. The Roma star has done more than enough to justify his selection this time around, and if he displays similar form come the winter, then surely, he must be on that plane alongside Kane.
The choice of wide players has caused a bit more controversy, however. United pair Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho have been left out of this squad to many conversations in the press. The dropping of Rashford makes more sense as his form has been incredibly underwhelming as of late, and unlike his United teammate Maguire, he has not built up any trust with Southgate in the past to help in this regard. On the other hand, Sancho has started to find his club form and has demonstrated over the last few years that he has the potential to be a truly world-class talent. If I were in Southgate’s shoes, I would have dropped a centre-half from the squad and taken Sancho instead; the youngster deserves it.
The other forwards picked this time out have all made legitimate cases to be included. Emile Smith Rowe is the one that many could argue should not be there, but he has shown signs of greatness this year, even if he is struggling to find starts at Arsenal. Southgate loves Sterling, and he has always been an outstanding player for the national side. Likewise, Bukayo Saka has always shone in whilst wearing the Three Lions and has taken another step up for Arsenal this year.
Overall, Southgate has picked a strong squad for these friendlies with a mix of exciting youth and his old reliables. Ideally, we would be seeing one less centre-half and one more attacking player to maximise the embarrassment of riches that England now finds itself with all of a sudden. However, the England manager has once again erred on the side of safety a little too much for me.