Sunday 18 November 2018

Southgate decides against prolonging squad agony

England manager Gareth Southgate is primed to announce his World Cup squad in the coming days. Photo: Getty Images
England manager Gareth Southgate is primed to announce his World Cup squad in the coming days. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Wilson

Gareth Southgate has made the sensible decision to name his World Cup squad early, this coming week in fact, perhaps because of his close proximity to the furniture rearranging that took place when Glenn Hoddle trimmed Paul Gascoigne from his list at the last moment in 1998.

As Southgate has explained, injuries permitting there is no need to prolong anyone's agony when you have a couple of weeks to spare and a reasonable idea of the group you would like to select. Better to let everyone know the good or bad news early and give the individuals in the finalised squad as much time as possible to get to know each other.

Southgate has already been unlucky in losing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Joe Gomez to injury

England at the moment are a young squad, with few seasoned internationals absolutely demanding selection, and for that reason Southgate may feel able to resist the temptation to include one or two names for the future simply to increase their experience.

Jadon Sancho and Ademola Lookman, the two starlets breaking through in the Bundesliga, have both been mentioned, though the circumstances are not quite the same as when Sven-Goran Eriksson took a 17-year-old Theo Walcott to Germany in 2006. Back then the team virtually picked itself, everyone knew pretty much how it would line up and, having been preferred to strikers of the quality of Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent, Walcott failed to manage a minute on the pitch in the World Cup. He was put back with the under 21s by the next manager, Steve McClaren, and ended up missing out on the 2010 finals under Fabio Capello when he boasted vastly more experience.

The flip side of the youth policy is what might be termed the elder statesman question. As already mentioned, England do not have too many of those but Southgate is believed to be willing to name Joe Hart among his three goalkeepers, even though the most experienced international at his disposal is unlikely to be first choice.

Martin Keown famously retired from international football after Brazil knocked England out of the 2002 World Cup in Japan, and who could blame him? In the later stages of his career he had been selected for the 1998 and 2002 tournaments by two different managers and failed to kick a ball in either.

If Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford are the first two goalkeeping names on the list, surely it would do no harm to further Nick Pope's encouraging development rather than take Hart along as unrequired back-up. Similarly, if Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling are unlikely to be first-team choices, it might be better to make up the numbers with an Alfie Mawson or a James Tarkowski, defenders presently on the periphery of the squad but players who are likely to be around when the next World Cup comes along.

So, on that basis, here is a suggested squad. The three goalkeepers who deserve to go are Butland, Pickford and Pope, although Southgate may prefer Hart to the Burnley player. Three centre-backs who seem certain to make the trip are John Stones, Harry Maguire and Phil Jones, and another Burnley player, Tarkowski, would be an adventurous fourth. Southgate must also consider the claims of Mawson, Cahill and Smalling for one place as extra defensive cover, though Michael Keane has probably slipped off the radar after an unimpressive first season at Everton.

England are pretty well off for full-backs even without Gomez, so much so that they can afford to ignore the fact that Danny Rose has fallen from favour at Tottenham. Rose may still get the call but few would argue if Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Ryan Bertrand and Trent Alexander-Arnold were the quartet boarding the plane.

In midfield the big question is whether to take Jack Wilshere, now that Oxlade-Chamberlain has pulled out. While there are doubts over the Arsenal player's fitness record, Southgate seems unconvinced by the claims of Jonjo Shelvey. There is also the debate over whether Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli should be regarded as midfielders or strikers, though little doubt that both will be going. So should Jesse Lingard, and one has the feeling that Southgate will allow as much time as possible for Adam Lallana to prove his fitness.

Possible England squad: Butland, Pickford, Pope; Walker, Trippier, Bertrand, Alexander-Arnold; Stones, Maguire, Jones, Smalling, Tarkowski; Henderson, Dier, Lallana, Lingard, Wilshere, Loftus-Cheek; Kane, Alli, Vardy, Rashford, Sterling.

Observer

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