The dreaded international break has returned to interrupt our enjoyment of domestic football, and this time it is the final two World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania that we have to watch England struggle through.
With these fixtures comes another England squad selection, and in part 2 we will analyse the midfielders and forwards from this 25-man squad below.
Eric Dier: The defensive midfielder has started every league game for Tottenham this season and has been instrumental in their defensive solidity. With fellow England internationals Harry Kane and Dele Alli usually grabbing the headlines Dier is an often forgotten man, but he quietly gets on with his job in an effective and professional manner. He should be a definite starter for me.
Harry Winks: Dier’s Spurs teammate Harry Winks was a late call-up after Fabian Delph pulled out of the squad due to injury. Mauricio Pochettino recently described the youngster as ‘the perfect midfielder’, which is high praise indeed, and it would be great to see him gain some experience in an England shirt. A friendly might provide a better opportunity somewhere down the line though as there are other more experienced players who will start ahead of him in these two fixtures.
Jake Livermore: The West Brom midfielder is one of the more questionable inclusions, but Southgate seems to see something in the 27-year old. He is a decent player but there are others who I would start ahead of him, and perhaps some more exciting younger players who could have been given the nod ahead of Livermore. To his credit he has looked solid in his previous appearances for England.
Jordan Henderson: One of the few real leaders in this squad, Henderson has an impressive range of passing and his energy and creativity have developed under Jurgen Klopp. The Liverpool man has captained England a few times under Southgate and he is a consistent performer, which should earn him starts in both of these games. The pressing style that he has learned under Klopp should also be useful if England start to adopt this style more often.
Raheem Sterling: One of Pep Guardiola’s favourites at Manchester City, Sterling has scored five league goals in seven games this season, and most of those are from the bench. He has had a devastating impact when introduced as a substitute this season, and this is perhaps how he could best be utilised for England. His pace and direct style of play can terrorise tired defenders in the later stages of games, especially when England have been struggling to break teams down.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: The former Arsenal man made the move to Liverpool in the summer in an attempt to see more game time. Ironically the winger has already ended up spending significant time in the Anfield dugout as he has struggled to displace any of Liverpool’s dynamic front three. I haven’t seen much from him to justify an England call-up recently, so the decision is a puzzling one. He shouldn’t feature prominently in this week’s games.
Jesse Lingard: Another player who hasn’t featured frequently for their club but who has made the England squad, Lingard does have two assists in his four brief appearances in the league this season. It is difficult to see him breaking into what is a strong Manchester United side any time soon, and until he does so his England future will include little play time. He does have a knack for scoring goals at Wembley though…
Dele Alli: The Tottenham midfielder has been a controversial figure this season. He is suspended for the game against Slovenia after making a rude gesture last time he was played in an England shirt, and in Spurs’ game at the weekend he was booked for a shameful dive. There is no doubt that he is a huge talent, but until he sorts out his disciplinary issues he will always be a target for opposing teams. He has two goals and two assists for Spurs in the league this season.
Marcus Rashford: The exciting Manchester United youngster has been utilised heavily by Jose Mourinho this season, deployed on the left wing to support their big money striker Romelu Lukaku. It is great to see him getting game time, and he has bagged two goals and three assists in the league this season. Rashford also scored in United’s 3-0 win over Basel in the Champions League, and added a brace when he played as a central striker in the Carabao Cup against Burton Albion. His versatility and influence on the game will give Southgate a lot of options, and I would be surprised to see Rashford left out for these games.
Harry Kane: There has been a lot of debate about whether or not Kane is world class in recent weeks, but for me there is no doubt he is amongst one of the best strikers in world football. The striker terrorised Huddersfield at the weekend, and despite his September goal-scoring curse he is still tied second in the Premier League Golden Boot standings with six goals. He is England’s best striker, and will be for the foreseeable future, and has to start every game that we intend to win.
Jermain Defoe: The veteran goal scorer made the move to Bournemouth after another successful season, in purely goal-scoring terms, with Sunderland in the last campaign. However Defoe has started slowly on the south coast with just one league goal so far this season. Given how little service he still manage to thrive on last season, these are somewhat worrying signs for 34-year old, and I doubt he will start either of the games this week.
Daniel Sturridge: Isn’t he injured? Apparently not, and that is good news for England as Sturridge is supremely talented. The trouble is that he hasn’t managed to force his way into the Liverpool starting XI as much as he’d like, and when he has done he hasn’t looked hugely confident. The trick with Sturridge is getting him in the right mental state, and if Southgate can do that then his inclusion in the squad will be justified. The jury is still out until he proves himself.
The midfield is a mixed bag. On the one hand England have a lot of depth and some excellent players who start week in and week out for their club sides. The likes of Henderson, Dier and Alli fall into this category. However there is also a lot of dead weight. Livermore, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lingard are all questionable inclusions, and aren’t players that you would really want to start over the others in their respective positions.
Alli and Sterling are the most exciting players, but Alli’s attitude is a problem and Sterling may struggle to be as effective as he is off the bench for Man City. Defensive midfield is the area of strength as Henderson and Dier are both excellent players.
The positive sign when looking at the forwards is Harry Kane. England are blessed with one of the best strikers in the game who has the ability to change games. It will be essential to build the team around Kane. Rashford could be deployed as a wide player and he is still developing, but it is great that he is so involved on the international front.
When Jamie Vardy returns from injury he should replace either Sturridge or Defoe, and the Leicester striker has been in good form this season.
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