England manager Gareth Southgate’s decision to stand by Manchester United captain Harry Maguire before the outcome of his court case in Greece was the headline-grabber in his squad to face Iceland and Denmark in the Uefa Nations League – but there are still plenty of other items of great interest.
Maguire was found guilty of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and repeated attempts of bribery hours after the squad was named on Tuesday.
Southgate has proved his ruthlessness in the past if he regards any player as having stepped out of line, but he came out strongly in defence of the 27-year-old as England prepare to resume action for the first time since a 4-0 win in Kosovo in November.
He proved no-one was exempt from his total authority when Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling was dropped for a Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro in November after a physical altercation with Joe Gomez, the Liverpool defender acknowledged as the innocent party in the incident at St George’s Park.
Maguire is a mainstay of this England set-up and, having listened to his version of events in Mykonos before the verdict, Southgate is maintaining faith, while elsewhere he is injecting new blood.
Southgate rewards brilliance of youth
Phil Foden’s elevation to England’s full squad has been an inevitability since he started making his way through the junior ranks, particularly when he was named player of the tournament when they won the Under-17 World Cup three years ago.
The 20-year-old showed glimpses of his brilliance for Manchester City last season as he prepared to fill the vacancy left by David Silva. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he will be an England regular for years to come.
Southgate has also called on a thrilling teenage talent from the other side of the city in Manchester United’s 18-year-old striker Mason Greenwood, who scored 17 goals last season. Greenwood, like Foden, carries the air of a natural at the highest level, irrespective of his youth.
Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips may be older at 24 but he has been touted for high honours for the past two seasons as a key component in Marcelo Bielsa’s midfield – a calm, composed presence with outstanding use of the ball who can act both as a shield and a creator.
This trio now have every chance of being the beneficiaries of the decision to postpone the Euros by 12 months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Grealish snubbed as Southgate revisits old guard
Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish may have been the main factor in their Premier League survival but he has clearly not done enough to convince Southgate of his worth at full England level.
There was surprise at the 24-year-old’s exclusion but, like Leicester City’s James Maddison – out injured this time – Grealish is discovering it can be a frustrating battle to break into Southgate’s plans.
Instead, the manager has gone for the steadier Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse and Tottenham’s Harry Winks along with Chelsea youngster Mason Mount and Declan Rice of West Ham. He is without injured Liverpool pair Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Southgate has demonstrated, however, that the door is never closed as Everton centre-half Michael Keane and Manchester City’s Kyle Walker will testify. They are recalled after it looked like their England careers were behind them.
The manager’s decision to select Spurs’ Eric Dier, another member of England’s old guard, as a centre-half option is another surprise, prompting outrage from supporters of Burnley and Brighton who see their men James Tarkowski and Lewis Dunk as preferable options.
Southgate, however, has seen plenty of Dier and trusts him to deliver what he wants either in defence or midfield.
Grealish and his many supporters at Villa and beyond will be wondering what he has to do to win a place in England’s squad.
England’s fearsome attacking options
|How England’s forwards compared last season at club level (all competitions)|
|Minutes per goal||110||163||157||126|
|Shots (on target)||156 (61)||81 (42)||135 (61)||104 (47)|
|% of games won||65||59||52||47|
England’s trump card as they made their plans for the Euros was always going to be in attack, where Southgate has had an impressive range of weaponry to choose from.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford have already proved their quality with England. Now the extra months before next summer’s proposed Euros has placed Greenwood firmly in the frame.
He has slipped seamlessly into Manchester United’s attack, a cold-eyed and clinical finisher with pace to burn, his goal tally of 17 a joint record for a teenager in a season at the club, alongside George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney.
Southampton’s Danny Ings also fully deserves his place in the squad after scoring 22 goals last season. The 28-year-old is a potent mixture of fierce work-rate and quality finishing, while Southgate has also seen enough to name Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham.
England’s keeper conundrum
|How England’s keepers fared in Premier League last season|
|% of shots saved||62||70||74|
|Errors leading to goals||4||2||1|
|% of games won||34||39||39|
Southgate’s loyalty has ensured Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been his consistent first choice for more than two years. It is a decision made, justifiably in this context, on the basis he has never let England down.
It may, however, be only a matter of time before he does if he cannot arrest a decline that came into sharp relief with Everton at the end of last season.
He was guilty of errors that cost goals against Crystal Palace and Manchester United before lockdown and produced a series of mistake-ridden performances when the Premier League resumed.
Pickford is still only 26 and has plenty of time to recapture the old sparkle, but he has certainly given Southgate food for thought, with Dean Henderson now back at Manchester United and determined to challenge David de Gea, and Burnley’s Nick Pope also outstanding last season.
If Southgate picks him again against Iceland and Denmark, Pickford cannot afford any mishaps.