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After much anticipation the England squad announcement has been made by Gareth Southgate. He only named his 26-man squad that will be heading to Qatar for the World Cup this afternoon but, of course, every man and their dog has their opinions on those who have and haven’t made the cut along with weighing in with comments on who may or may not start. Here we’re going to look at a number of different aspects of the squad and the upcoming tournament:
- Who made the England World Cup squad?
- Which players missed out?
- Pundit and ex-pro reaction
- Predicted XI
- Pundit Feed thoughts
Who made the England World Cup squad?
An England squad with a trusted core
There were numerous players under the microscope in the build up to this England squad announcement with some big names either out of form or out of action due to injuries whilst some younger up and comers were banging on the door. Southgate has largely opted to go with those who have performed for him in the past.
Harry Maguire is the most notable player that falls into this category. He’s been out of sorts for a good year now at Manchester United whilst game time hasn’t exactly been forthcoming under Erik Ten Hag. His inclusion in the Three Lions squad has massively split opinion; the likes of former England right back Danny Mills and ex-midfielder Danny Murphy are pro-Maguire’s inclusion citing his past achievements at international level whilst Lianne Sanderson, a former Lioness, and Jack Wilshere pointed to his lack of form.
Kyle Walker is another defender in the squad that will arrive in Qatar short of fitness. He’s been out with injury since playing 41 minutes in the Manchester derby back in early October. Unlike Maguire, nobody is particularly against Walker’s inclusion. That isn’t necessarily true of his Man City teammate, Kalvin Phillips. Phillips has undoubtedly been picked by Southgate for what he’s done in the past; he’s only played 53 minutes of football this season and his inclusion has been slammed by a lot of fans although pundits, such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Jamie Carragher, have insisted he has to go if fit.
At the sharp end of the pitch, Raheem Sterling has struggled to light things up since his transfer to Chelsea. He’s been fantastic for England though – especially for Southgate. Sterling is second to only Harry Kane for goals scored in the Southgate era.
There were some surprise inclusions
Although Southgate has largely pinned to players that have delivered in an England shirt in the past he has also made some decisions that show he isn’t as stubborn as some suggest. The biggest nod to this fact is the inclusion of Leicester playmaker James Maddison. Pundits across the United Kingdom – and in fact from even further afield – have been crying out for the former Norwich man to go to Qatar but many never expected him to get the call. Rio Ferdinand is one notable name that suggested Maddison’s chances of a call up were slim to none.
Another midfielder in the squad that caught a few off guard is Conor Gallagher. The young Chelsea man spent a terrific loan spell with Crystal Palace last year and Southgate cited his ability to effectively press being critical to his decision making process.
Two slightly less surprise inclusions – albeit neither of them being nailed on prior to the England World Cup squad announcement – come amongst the nine defenders. Conor Coady, who has impressed without being world class for Everton this season, and Ben White, who has been a big influence on Arsenal’s strong start to the season, both make the cut. Both of those defensive selections will be met with approval from former England man Alan Shearer; he included both in his self-selected squad a few days ago.
Which players missed out?
Serie A trio shunned by Southgate
When trimming a squad of 55 down to 26 there were always going to be a number of players left gutted when the call doesn’t come. For some though, it would have been a more bitter pill to swallow than for others. For example, Danny Welbeck was reportedly in the extended squad but, in reality, it would have needed a disaster to unfold ahead of him in order for him to be on the plane. One area that hasn’t gone unnoticed by fans though is Southgate seemingly snubbing the English players plying their trade in Italy.
Fikayo Tomori, who starred in AC Milan’s title win last season, is one player that many people thought might be a slam-dunk for not only the squad but the starting XI given the lack of availability and form in the backline. He hasn’t been included with Southgate claiming he hadn’t done “quite enough to push the older ones out”. A more experienced option from Italy could have been Chris Smalling; Smalling has been a giant for Jose Mourinho’s Roma side over the last 18 months and is dependable in both penalty boxes. Nothing has been said on this matter from the England camp but former Scotland international Don Hutchison was left befuddled by the choice not to select either of the Serie A duo.
Finally, we have Tammy Abraham. Abraham had a great debut season in Serie A last season, where he plays alongside Smalling. He led the Roma line well, won the Europa Conference League and scored goals for fun. This season his form has tailed off and Southgate wasn’t shy about pointing this out as he said “form could be more important” with the tournament kick off so close. The irony of Southgate having selected Maguire despite this view of current form being critical wasn’t lost on fans whilst several pundits – including former striker Darren Bent – were hoping to see Abraham in Qatar.
Southgate will want to avoid penalties
England and penalty shootouts don’t go well together where major tournaments are concerned. Yes, England have won a shootout under Southgate but, more notably, the Three Lions lost the European Championship final via the cruel lottery of penalties. Apparently though, Southgate isn’t factoring that into his squad selection.
The choice to take Phillips in midfield effectively spelled the end for Southampton man James Ward-Prowse, who is well known to be a set-piece specialist whilst Brentford striker Ivan Toney has also been cut from the initial 55-man squad. He has a 100% penalty record since being with the Bees having netted all 18 spot kicks he’s taken and his omission hasn’t gone down well with club manager Thomas Frank; Frank is quoted as saying Toney is the most “in form striker after Harry Kane”.
On the subject of shootouts, another notable absentee from this squad is Jadon Sancho. He was amongst the trio to miss penalties in that now infamous night against Italy. His presence in the England squad wouldn’t necessarily help Southgate to penalty success but many Manchester United fans are disappointed that he hasn’t been in the conversation.
The squad in full: Pickford, Pope, Ramsdale, Trippier, Walker, Alexander-Arnold, Coady, Stones, Maguire, Dier, Shaw, White, Mount, Rice, Henderson, Bellingham, Phillips, Grealish, Maddison, Gallagher, Kane, Wilson, Sterling, Rashford, Foden, Saka
How will England line up in Qatar?
There are still a couple of unknowns in the England squad owing to match fitness and the fact that there are still club games to play before the team actually head to Qatar, however, based on what we know right now this is how see England lining up in their opening match of the tournament against Iran.
Jordan Pickford is nailed on to start in goal. In defence we’re anticipating three centre backs with wing backs providing the width. Our view is that Trent Alexander-Arnold wouldn’t have made the squad but for injury to Reece James so Kieran Trippier will get the nod on the right with Luke Shaw – the only natural left back in the squad – on the left. John Stones and Maguire will be two thirds of the centre backs with the third position more debatable. If fit, we think Walker will get the nod ahead of Eric Dier.
Midfield is a trickier situation. Southgate loves a double pivot with Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson the obvious duo, however, we think Jude Bellingham has to be starting, which will see England slightly more attacking. That gives us a central two of Rice and Bellingham. At the sharp end of the pitch Kane is definitely starting and we see Sterling and Saka providing the support.
GK – Pickford
DF – Trippier, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Shaw
MF – Rice, Bellingham
ST – Kane, Sterling, Saka
The final word
The England squad announcement has caused a lot of controversy with the inclusion of Maguire, Walker and Phillips at the forefront of that. Ordinarily, we’d agree that taking three players potentially lacking match sharpness as a problem, however, the larger squads allowed in Qatar does reduce the risk involved in doing so. On top of that, we hold the view that Walker and Phillips fulfil key roles within the team/squad when fit.
The doubts creep in where Maguire is concerned. He’s been a stalwart for England but one mistake in Qatar – regardless of whether it leads to a goal – is liable to set nerves jangling for the player and fans. It’s also hard to ignore the solid form of other players. Tomori and Smalling are two who have impressed in Italy. The latter you can perhaps dismiss with his passing game perhaps not at the standard Southgate wants but it feels like Tomori has been written off for a couple of sub-standard games against Chelsea in the Champions League; generally speaking, he’s been very good for Milan.
As for the other omissions, the big one is probably up front where Abraham and Toney have been overlooked. Abraham hasn’t hit the same heights as last season and, in truth, Southgate’s comments on form are probably genuine. They sound hypocritical when framed with the Maguire selection but, the cold hard truth is that England have more choice up front than they do at centre half. That gives you a straight toss up between Callum Wilson and Toney. If pushed we’d have gone the other way owing to Toney’s hold up play and penalty record being superior to Wilson’s but you’re talking about fairly fine margins.
All in all, Southgate’s squad probably isn’t a million miles off where we’d have it ourselves.