As England prepare for litmus test friendlies against Spain and France, Tottenham Hotspur stars Eric Dier and Dele Alli will know they have a chance to move inward from the peripheries of Roy Hodgson’s plans.
The Spurs duo may boast just two England caps and 49 Premier League appearances between them, but with engine room regulars Jordan Henderson and Jack Wilshere both absent, this is unquestionably their opportunity to make Hodgson think twice about his Euro 2016 selections.
The Liverpool captain’s place at next summer’s tournament is ironclad. He outperformed every English midfielder last season and the national team desperately needs players taking on big responsibilities at club level. The Arsenal star’s inclusion, meanwhile, largely depends on fitness. But Hodgson has made special allowances for Wilshere before, seen as the jewel in England’s midfield diamond, and probably will again.
The rest of the midfield slots in Hodgon’s 2016 squad, on the other hand, perhaps excepting the ever-dependable James Milner, are still up for grabs.
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Michael Carrick’s experience may or may not be called upon, Fabian Delph has plummeted from the limelight since his move to Manchester City, Adam Lallana is struggling to exceed bit-part roles for club and country, Ross Barkley’s robust arrogance certainly isn’t to everybody’s liking and Jonjo Shelvey’s England fate could well depend on whether Swansea turn their stuttering season around.
All have earned Hodgson’s consideration, but none have proved themselves to be indispensable.
Although Dier and Alli won’t be able to earn such status with just four friendlies to go until the tournament in France, they’re entering Three Lions reckoning at just the right time. Both have been nothing short of outstanding for Tottenham this season and their presence in the England camp is a testament to that. If the Spurs starlets can transition their form to international level whilst glossing over their inexperience, they’ll certainly give Hodgson something to think about.
It may be early days, but it’s impossible not to get excited about Dele Alli. Only ten games into his Premier League career, the 19-year-old already looks the part; physical, technical, positionally intelligent and confident enough to blast his senior Spurs team-mates – particularly Erik Lamela – for not passing the ball. Sometimes you can just tell a young player is destined for great things.
His goal against Aston Villa, in which the midfielder simply waited on the edge of the box as chaos ensued inside it until the ball finally fell to him via an expert take, and his impressive performance against Arsenal last weekend, in which Alli effortlessly switched between deep midfield and the No.10 role, both suggest a maturity far beyond the teenager’s years.
Considering how quickly he’s made the step up from League One level with MK Dons to Premier League level with Spurs, it doesn’t seem too outlandish to suggest he could rise to international standard with similar ease.
Likewise, Dier’s influence on Spurs’ impressive defensive record this season, conceding ten times in twelve games, has been immeasurable. Whether defensive midfield becomes his ultimate position remains to be seen but the 21-year-old has shielded his centre-backs as effectively as any other Premier League play-breaker this season, including the likes of Francis Coquelin, Lucas Leiva and Morgan Schneiderlin, averaging 3.1 tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 2.4 successful aerial duels per match.
Hodgson may view Alli as too similar to his other options when adding the all-action midfielder’s inexperience to the equation. He doesn’t particularly differentiate from what England already have and Hodgson will feel the natural urge to stick with more established names.
Dier, however, is something a little different; England lack a utility man and a midfielder quite like him, prepared to sit deep and reserve himself purely for the nitty-gritty. Whilst the former Sporting Lisbon starlet’s versatility adds further depth to the squad, his defensive mindset when deployed in midfield could have huge significance for the Three Lions at Euro 2016, should they encounter one of the tournament’s top contenders.
Of course, there is still a long way to go until next summer and countless scenarios could materialise in the meantime. When the honeymoon period is over, Alli may well start looking like what he actually is – a teenager recently plucked from League One – just as the inconsistencies of youth could equally catch up with Dier. Previous call-ups, such Jack Colback and Tom Cleverley, may re-emerge from the wilderness, whilst established options like Carrick and Milner may suddenly fade away.
But the Spurs duo have the opportunity to impress and the talent to make an impact. If their England performances are positive and Tottenham’s impressive start to the season is sustained until its conclusion, both can feel deserving of a place in Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad.
Whether they’ll actually get the call-up remains another matter. But for now, it’s all about taking their chances against Spain and France.