Gareth Southgate recently announced a 29-man England squad for the upcoming games against the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, and Iceland.
The selection of players, highlighted below, is more than the typical 23 player squad due to the extra game. The opening game against the Irish is a friendly, followed by Nations League matches against Belgium and Iceland.
Following disappointing results in the last international break, England sit 3rd in their group, 2 points behind Belgium and behind Denmark on goal differential.
If England can top the group, they will once again reach the Nations League Finals. However, this will probably require that they beat Belgium for a second time.
Despite Southgate’s decision to opt for a larger squad, there were still some questionable picks along with many other storylines.
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley), Dean Henderson (Manchester United)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Conor Coady (Wolves), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Reece James (Chelsea), Michael Keane (Everton), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Kieran Trippier (Atletico Madrid), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Harry Winks (Tottenham)
Forwards: Tammy Abraham (Chelsea), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Most notably, Southgate again omitted Mason Greenwood after him and midfielder Phil Foden violated quarantine restrictions on international duty.
While Foden has been granted an opportunity for reconciliation, Greenwood will have to continue waiting for a second call-up. The winger hasn’t quite hit the ground running after a stellar end to last season, and the 19-year-old will need to refocus on his football to get past this obstacle.
Leicester City pair Harvey Barnes and James Maddison also miss out. Barnes made his senior debut for England in a 3-0 victory over Wales in October, while Maddison is available after missing out due to injury in October.
One could question the omission of any of these three players over the likes of Reece James, who is suspended for the first game of the Nations League and due to the depth at right-back (with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Kyle Walker also selected).
Furthermore, recent debutants Danny Ings and Kalvin Phillips have been left out due to injury.
Is Jordan Pickford’s Place Safe?
Based on recent performances, Jordan Pickford has reason to feel uneasy about his status as England’s #1. The former Sunderland goalkeeper was benched for Everton by Carlo Ancelloti last weekend after a bevy of mistakes to start to the season.
The other two goalkeepers in the squad, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson, were arguably the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League last season. Although Pope hasn’t quite replicated last season’s displays and Henderson has been relegated to a backup role behind David De Gea, they both make strong claims to overtake Pickford.
Nonetheless, Gareth Southgate doesn’t seem to think Pickford’s position is under threat. Ahead of England’s match against the Republic Ireland on Thursday, Southgate said, “There is nobody who I think is challenging seriously at the moment to push him out of that position”.
With a lot of stake in the two Nations League matches, another critical mistake by Pickford could change Southgate’s mind. Pickford clearly has the upper hand but his place ahead of next summer’s European Championships is far from secure.
How to Line Up in Defense
England possess a strange balance of defenders in the squad. They sport a luxury of riches of right-back, an array of decent, but uninspiring, options in the heart of defence, and a thin selection of left-backs.
Southgate has often opted to play five in the back, allowing him to utilize an extra defender to account for the deficiencies at centre back and to play with two of the conventional right-backs at the same time.
Harry Maguire has struggled on and off the pitch recently, while Joe Gomez has recovered after an underwhelming period.
Conor Coady has emerged as a legitimate long-term option for Southgate due to his consistency and passing range. Aston Villa centre-back Tyrone Mings’ stock has also risen.
Ben Chilwell has a firm grasp of the left-back position, but Bukayo Saka’s ascendance will be intriguing to watch.
Overall, Trent Alexander-Arnold is probably the only defender who seems certain to play in next summer’s European Championships next summer. These games will allow the aforementioned defenders to make their pitches to Southgate for their inclusion.
Can the new guys become household names on the teamsheet?
Gareth Southgate has not shied away from bringing in new players to freshen up the squad in recent international breaks.
In the past few months, Foden, Greenwood, Mings, Mason Mount, James Ward-Prowse, Jack Grealish, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin have all made their debuts.
While Greenwood, Ward-Prowse, and Mings seem unlikely to break through in the immediate future, Foden, Mount, Grealish, and Calvert-Lewin have a legitimate chance to become regulars in the team.
The midfield is also short of reliable options, with Jordan Henderson the only experienced healthy option. England has cycled through strikers over the years to partner Harry Kane, none of whom have nailed down a place. Calvert-Lewin is the next to have his shot.
Many fringe players have performed well in the past, but few have shined brightly enough to cement their places. Will any of these players change that?