·28 September 2022
·28 September 2022
He can choose 26 players and will, though he said: “I don’t think it’s an ideal number.”
It leaves other questions for him to answer when turning a list of perhaps 35 candidates into his final 26.
Monday may have been a fine night for Aaron Ramsdale. Nick Pope had a two-game audition to be Jordan Pickford’s deputy but his unconvincing kicking presented a problem even before a late error gifted Kai Havertz Germany’s equaliser. Ramsdale might now be second in line when Pickford returns, while the presumption is that Dean Henderson will be the odd man out.
Southgate has ducked decisions by selecting all four right-backs in various squads. But if there is a separate debate about whether Liverpool’s creator-in-chief should be first choice for his country, it has become ever more apparent he is fourth in his manager’s thinking. And while Kyle Walker really ranks as one of the centre-backs in a 3-4-3 formation, Reece James and Kieran Trippier are both ahead of Alexander-Arnold. Southgate may rationalise that he gives one of the extra spots in his squad to someone who stands a greater chance of playing. He seems increasingly unafraid of criticism for sidelining Alexander-Arnold.
Because if so, then Trippier is less likely to play on the left and, in turn, there is less need for Alexander-Arnold. The probability is that Southgate was disappointed Chelsea signed Marc Cucurella, limiting Chilwell’s chances to play at club level. But the combination of Bukayo Saka’s awkward night at left wing-back in Milan and Luke Shaw’s fine display against Germany, which might propel him into the starting 11 and then necessitate having a like-for-like replacement, suggests Chilwell goes to Qatar.
Everything indicates four names are inked in – John Stones (assuming his hamstring injury is not too serious), Harry Maguire (whatever his critics think), a renascent Eric Dier (who has started both games since his recall) and Walker.
That probably leaves two spots. None of Conor Coady, Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori were granted a minute’s action during the two September games. Coady – England’s player of Euro 2020, without playing, according to Steve Holland – has a reputation as a good tourist, but Dier’s ability to play in the middle and on the right of the three could make him redundant. England have fewest compelling choices on the left, Maguire’s role, where Guehi and Tomori could be competing for one position in the squad.
Tyrone Mings, as a left-footer, could come back into contention; James Tarkowski, excelling on the left for Everton, may be too far down the pecking order. That Ben White would prefer to play in the middle or on the right might count against him, though he is in Southgate’s thinking.
Southgate shows loyalty to those who have performed for him in the past and a 26-man squad gives him greater opportunity to. He was rewarded for selecting Maguire when he was not fit for the start of Euro 2020 though Jordan Henderson, who was not either, never recaptured his best form that summer.
Phillips was a beneficiary then, in a tournament when he was outstanding. But he may represent the greatest gamble now: with only 13 minutes’ football all season, having undergone shoulder surgery and lacking pre-World Cup friendlies to coax him back into shape.
James Ward-Prowse missed the final cut for Euro 2020; now his chances of dodging similar disappointment could depend on whether Southgate takes five central midfielders. It makes more sense to pursue a policy of safety in numbers if one of the first four is an injury doubt.
Bellingham was England’s player of September. Injuries to Phillips and Henderson may have created an opening, but he took it. And while the sense is Southgate prefers to have two central midfielders behind the ball, the Borussia Dortmund teenager adds another dimension. He is surely starting in November. There is an outside chance that could help Conor Gallagher, if Southgate then wants another attack-minded central midfielder to cover for Bellingham.
Mount’s equaliser against Germany was his first international goal in 18 months. A starter in the Euro 2020 final and Chelsea’s player of the year in successive seasons, he has nonetheless been leapfrogged by some of England’s other options on the flanks. Preferring 3-4-3 to 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 takes out one of his possible positions, even if it is a formation Chelsea often play. For now, Mount may be seen as an impact substitute.
The answer could be different for each of the pair. Southgate said on Monday: “We would be foolish not to keep an open mind, especially with players who know us and can slot in comfortably.” If that applies to both of the Manchester United duo, Rashford may have two advantages: he has more experience and credit in the bank for Southgate’s England and he can double up as both winger and the third striking option. All of which could make Jarrod Bowen fallible after his poor start to the season.
As it is, Southgate will probably take six players who can operate as wingers, though some are versatile and each can figure more if he plays a back four. But Sancho may be seventh or eighth in line for one of those spots.
Neither Tammy Abraham nor Ivan Toney got a minute against Italy or Germany, which felt still more worrying for the uncapped Brentford man. The reality is that, over several years, no one has secured the role as the captain’s understudy, and Southgate said: “There are some really tight calls.” Club form could yet be decisive. That may give hope to Ollie Watkins or even Dominic Calvert-Lewin but, for now, Abraham looks the slight favourite.
Goalkeepers: Pickford, Ramsdale, Pope
Defenders: Walker, Stones, Maguire, Dier, Coady, Guehi
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