In early September, Gareth Southgate’s England squad will face international opposition for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak, with Nations League fixtures against Iceland and Denmark.
These fixtures mark the beginning of a season which will culminate in a chance for glory at the European Championships. Southgate’s first squad of the season indicates that planning for next summer has already begun.
England’s 24-man squad comprises many of the usual suspects. Eric Dier, Joe Gomez and Alexander-Arnold will take up defensive roles, whereas Kane, Sterling and Rashford are to provide their typical attacking firepower. If it were not for injury or a controversial legal saga, Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire would also have made the cut.
However, the goalkeeping position makes for an intriguing topic of discussion. England have historically struggled for depth in this department, yet Southgate’s inclusion of Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson shows that the Three Lions are finally spoilt for choice between the sticks. Each of these three are first team regulars at Premier League level.
Despite Pickford being tried and tested for England, his club form in the 2019/20 season has placed his first team position in jeopardy. The Everton goalkeeper conceded 56 goals last season, 23 more than Henderson did for Sheffield United. Based on stats and form, Henderson appears the favourite to assume the goalkeeper position, as he recorded an impressive 13 clean sheets in his debut season in the Premier League. It remains to be seen how Southgate will decide between three talented young goalkeepers, each with their own claim to a starting spot.
Southgate’s selection of midfielders has also posed interesting questions. Kalvin Phillips has been welcomed into the squad for a deserved first England call-up, having recently helped Leeds in their long-awaited promotion to the Premier League.
Phillips is naturally a holding midfield player who acts as a pivot in building attacks. His presence alongside Harry Winks, Declan Rice and James Ward-Prowse shows that Southgate is intent on constructing a midfield adept in ball retention with an ability to protect the defence from counter-attacks.
This defensive approach gives the likes of James Maddison, Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley an uncertain future in Southgate’s long-term plans. If it is midfield balance that the Three Lions are looking for, attack-minded midfielders such as this face an uphill struggle to break into the first team.
England’s starting-11 to face Iceland is far from decided, yet their setup promises an exciting albeit slightly experimental approach. With the inclusion of teenagers Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood, Southgate’s desire to build a squad for the future is evident.
If he can answer the questions that his own squad selection has posed, this could be a season for English football fans to remember.
Photo Credit: Eddie Keogh for The FA