Southgate Springs Surprise With Bold Selections
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Southgate Springs Surprise With Bold Selections

07/06/24 10:23

Gareth Southgate has often been criticised in the past for failing to live up to his promise of “picking players on form”. In recent years he has tended to stick with a team he trusts, whether players enjoyed being in great form or not. Many will be pleased that he has not stuck to the status quo, the squad picked illustrating Southgate’s desire to be bold and go against the grain.

The first victim was James Maddison. Somehow Maddison has never come across as a player that Southgate likes. Ever since he was pictured in a Casino a few years back, Maddison has almost had to work twice as hard to put himself in contention.

With an added requirement of an England player in the Southgate era being a model professional, you always felt like Maddison making that mistake was going to do more harm than good.

Harsh, maybe – yet an honest reflection from Maddison himself on Instagram highlights that it has been a season well below expectations. The general consensus seems to be that Southgate’s decision not to include him is the correct one.

You’d have been a bold man to bet against Jack Grealish not being included in the final 26 this time last year.

Having just played a key role in Manchester City winning an unprecedented treble, the diminutive winger was expected to kick on and enjoy a productive season. However, the stats don’t lie, a season that yielded just 3 goals and 1 assist did little to suggest Southgate would give him a starting berth.

The fact he has not been included is perhaps due to a lack of game time at the Etihad – something that a former Southgate favourite, Kalvin Phillips also fell fowl of.

Grealish will feel disappointed. He offers something that others don’t. A unique ability to win fouls, retain possession, yet be direct may be something England miss.

The emergence of the likes of Gordon and Eze saw Grealish fall down the pecking order, the performance of Eze on Monday night perhaps being the final nail in the coffin for the flamboyant Brummie.

One thing is clear, the omission of Grealish, Maddison and even Jordan Henderson, is something the team will be disappointed in.

Declan Rice admitted that “Madders and Jack are two of my best mates in the squad”. It’s clear to see that the trio of midfielders are key to the squad cohesion. These popular members of the England set up would have been beneficial to the less experienced players. It’s clear that it is time for new characters to come to the fore in the dressing room.

Harry Maguire, a defender whose England performances have won him more plaudits than those for his club, would have been a shoe in.

It is no secret that Maguire is a favourite of Southgate’s, his reliability in an England shirt guaranteeing him a starting berth if he were fit. Many will be pleased that he is not part of the squad, but the truth is, he has never let England down.

The defence suddenly looks thin, particularly with the limited, inexperienced options at Centre Half.

John Stones will be less comfortable without the inclusion of Maguire, with Mark Guehi a likely partner. The reality is, opposition forwards are more likely to fancy their chances against the Crystal Palace centre back than Maguire.

What he lacks in pace he makes up for in leadership and a solid understanding with Stones. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ is a sentiment that may be reserved for the more fickle fans of the Three Lions if England fail to live up to expectations this summer.

The middle of the park encapsulates the nature of Southgate’s selection. Both Kobbie Mainoo and Adam Wharton would have been names barely spoken about even 6 months ago. The fact that Wharton was plying his trade in the Championship highlights the progress he has made. Meanwhile Mainoo will have known that he was in with a great chance after scoring in the FA Cup final against Manchester City. It will be interesting to see if he is in Southgate’s 11 in the opening game.

Up top, the inclusion of both Toney and Watkins has raised a few eyebrows. The latter must have been worried that history may repeat itself – back in 2006 the top English goalscorer in the Premier League, Darren Bent, was left out despite scoring 18 goals.

Ivan Toney, perhaps the 3rd in contention for game time in Germany, is an interesting inclusion. This is the first time that Southgate has chosen to include 3 strikers, epitomising the bold nature of his selection.

The decisive nature of Southgate’s selection shows he is not afraid to shake things up. If he does deliver England's first trophy since 1966, his decision to select these 26 players will be vindicated.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Alex Jones

Writer

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