On Thursday, England manager Gareth Southgate finally announced his long awaited 26 man England squad for the upcoming FIFA World Cup out in Qatar. As fans will know, this is the first World Cup to be held over winter and it has certainly caused disruption and problems across all European domestic leagues, not least the Premier League with an even more packed schedule of fixtures to try and cram in ahead of the domestic pause.
In fairness though, there were very few surprises in Southgate’s selection given how cautious and predictable the England squad has become under his charge over the last 12 to 18 months, but one player who probably raised an eyebrow or two when the announcement was made was the inclusion of Leicester City midfielder James Maddison and few at Ignition Online Casino saw that pick coming.
The 25 year old No 10 has clearly been rewarded for his form this year under Brendan Rodgers despite Leicester’s own struggles, as he has chipped in with six goals and four assists in his opening 12 Premier League games. The irony of course being he won his one and only cap three years ago and has been in the cold since then.
Southgate said of his inclusion.
“He is playing really well. He is a good player. We have always said he is a good player. He has earned the right. We think he can give something slightly different to the other attacking players we have. He is playing as well as any of the attacking players in this country and he is a bit different to the others.”
Two additional surprising picks are 29 year old Manchester United centre half Harry Maguire who has struggled for game time this year, and 26 year old Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips who has only made four appearances this season following a lengthy injury.
The full selection is:
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Newcastle United), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Defenders: Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), John Stones (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Conor Coady (Everton), Ben White (Arsenal), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham United), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City)
Forwards: James Maddison (Leicester City), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Despite very poor recent form in the Nations League clashes, many England fans will be confident of at least reaching the next stage of the tournament given the make up of Group B sees us face Iran in the opening clash on November 21, before then facing Wales and the United States, but many will also feel it is a squad dominated by familiar names, as opposed to true form and merit, and then flavour of the month selections.
Many fans will feel this is chalk and cheese to what Southgate sold the England squad as being all those years back before maybe a greater sense of pragmatism and safety crept in and it certainly sounds like the increase in allowed substitutes has changed his thinking.
“We have wanted to make sure we have the balance of the squad right. In this day and age squad is more important than ever with five substitutes. You want different options for different moments of matches and different stages of the tournament as well. We have had to cover a couple of players who are not fully match fit as well so having 26 players means you can take a couple of risks. We think the balance is there. We think we have everything covered.”
We will soon see if those risks were worth it, but BBC pundit and former England and Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer is not as confident as he has been in former competitions, explaining that he feels it is the quarter finals for England at this time of asking.
“I don’t see us going as far as we have done in the last two tournaments. I think in terms of midfield positions and forward positions Southgate will be confident but in terms of defensively, that’s an area for concern. We should win the group with the ability that we have in our squad. The further you go in the tournament the better the opposition are going to be and the players you’re up against, so my concern for England would be defence.”
In terms of our overall chances, Shearer added.
“With the success that they have had in the last two tournaments we want England to go that one step further and try and win it. Whether we can or not remains to be seen. It’s going to be very, very difficult. I’d say maybe a quarter-final.”
Fans will undoubtedly be hoping for far more than a quarter final and we just have to hope the route through is favourable to us.
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