Gareth Southgate named his latest England squad this afternoon ahead of this summer’s international fixtures. The new man continues to do what neither Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce could: leave out Wayne Rooney.
The Rooney Problem isn’t England’s largest concern but the desperate attempts to shoe-horn him into the team has done neither him nor his country any favours. Hodgson agonised for weeks about how to include Rooney, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane into the same starting eleven and must have been delighted when then United manager Louis van Gaal started playing Rooney as a central midfielder. And so the fanciful idea of Rooney playing central midfield or at the tip of a diamond midfield took shape with nary a thought to team balance.
When there was talk of Gareth Southgate taking the job, I doubted he’d have the courage to leave Rooney out. His early words were supportive of the England captain and reiterated his importance to the team. However, Rooney was omitted from the squad for the March internationals and has now been omitted again, proving it’s no fluke. This is a refreshing change of pace.
Besides Rooney, though, there aren’t too many surprises in this latest squad. Not that England are hiding any rough diamonds right now, mind you.
Joe Hart (Torino, on loan from Man City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Jack Butland (Stoke), Tom Heaton (Burnley)
Southgate has made the curious decision to select four goalkeepers for the games against Scotland and France. Hart has had an interesting season in Italy and how well he’s done depends on who you ask. Regardless, there’s little reason to believe he won’t still be first choice and will certainly play in the qualifier against Scotland. Forster takes his position as customary backup and might see a game against France. Butland returns to the squad after long-term injury and will no doubt gain that valuable training experience. Quite what Tom Heaton’s role here is unclear and bar injuries he’s little chance of getting minutes.
Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Phil Jones (Man Utd), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), John Stones (Everton), Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), Kyle Walker (Spurs), Kieran Trippier (Spurs), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Aaron Cresswell (West Ham)
The state of England’s central defence continues to depress. Gary Cahill comes off a fine season for Chelsea and he’ll likely take the captain’s armband, but his potential partners don’t inspire much confidence. Stones has had an inconsistent season at City littered with high-profile errors, while Jones and Smalling have formed something of a comedy duo at United in recent weeks. Boro’s Ben Gibson is an untested option. Suddenly Michael Keane seems a big miss (the Burnley defender has a calf problem).
For some reason, three right backs have been called up. Walker will get the nod as usual, be it at full back or wing back, while Trippier and Clyne will compete for a spot against France. Trippier is in line for his first cap, which he deserves after a good turnout for Spurs in the last couple of months. On the other side, I expect Bertrand will retain his spot, while Cresswell will aim to make the most of his chance in Rose’s and Shaw’s absence.
Eric Dier (Spurs), Jake Livermore (West Brom), Dele Alli (Spurs), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Man Utd), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Central midfield also continues to be a weakness in the squad. While it’s great that we’ve discovered two holding midfielders in Dier and Livermore, the lack of central midfielder – be it playmaker or box-to-box – is a real concern and leaves the squad a bit unbalanced. As it is, England will have to use Alli, Lallana or Chamberlain there if there want to play with a 4-3-3.
The midfield options suggest that England will be using either a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-2-1 in the upcoming games. Southgate deployed Alli, Lallana and Sterling in a narrow three in an attempt to overload Lithuania, while Alli and Lallana combined well during a competent performance in Germany. Lingard will provide backup across that line.
Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Harry Kane (Spurs), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)
With four strikers competing for what will likely be just one starting spot, I expect Harry Kane will be first choice. The Spurs striker scored seven goals in his last two Premier League games and is arguably the freshest player in the squad, having only returned from injury in March. Vardy will play the role of impact sub.
Rashford’s inclusion here is questionable. I feel he would have been better off travelling to the U21 European Championships than playing two games for the senior team. Defoe continues to be rewarded for being the only half-decent Sunderland player. It’s an otherwise shallow pool of forwards.
The squad is bottom-heavy and the lack of available midfield and forward options will be a worry for Southgate with just a year to go until Russia 2018. The trip to Scotland is arguably the hardest game remaining in England’s qualifying group and a win there would strengthen their grip on top spot. The game in France will be a test of England’s set-up and whether they can compete despite the large talent gap. The 3-4-2-1 worked well against Germany and I’d like to see it tried again.