We are now just 85 days away from the World Cup in Russia, and England boss Gareth Southgate has some big decisions to make ahead announcing his squad come early May. The upcoming friendlies against Holland & Italy will be a chance for Southgate to assess his squad and give some fringe players the chance to shine. Here are some talking points for the England boss to ponder ahead of the friendlies.
Southgate has called up four keepers for the friendlies with Joe Hart, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford & debutant Tom Pope getting the nod. It’s likely that only three of these players will be boarding the flight to Russia. The battle for England number one come the 18th of June is truly on, with Hart, Butland & Pickford all capable of starting against Tunisia with Southgate remarking. "Clearly the number one jersey is up for grabs."
The problem for Southgate will be the selection of Hart. The on-loan West Ham keeper has had a poor season, appearing just fifteen times in the league. His only start of 2018 in the league saw him concede three against Burnley, a game which will be better remembered for the on pitch antics of the West Ham fans.
Whilst most England fans would prefer Jack Butland & Jordan Pickford in between the sticks in Russia. The question then for Southgate would be if Hart could be an effective back up in the World Cup. The role of the substitute keeper is underrated in a World Cup squad. They are the player who barring a disaster won’t ever start and will be useful in lifting the morale of the team. Hart certainly brings experience to the role and could be a useful sounding board for both Butland & Pickford. However, would Hart be comfortable with this place in the squad?
A deputy for Kane
The absence of Harry Kane through injury is not an immediate concern yet, with the striker slated for an early April return after injuring ankle ligaments. Although, with the nature of Kane's injury (he has injured the same ankle twice previously) could mean that a small tweak could endanger the chances of the Spurs striker making it to Russia.
It means that the games against Netherlands & Italy will give the likes of Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford & even Danny Welbeck a chance to stake their claim as England’s number 9 shirt. The trio of strikers has all found the back of the net in recent weeks.
Jamie Vardy seems to be the most likely to succeed in leading the line should Kane not be fit in time. Vardy has had somewhat had a mini-revival under the guidance of Claude Puel and has rekindled his bromance with Riyad Mahrez. Just make sure the fiery striker gets friendly with Dele Alli, to ensure the same results in Russia.
A case for a new defence?
Central to Gareth Southgate’s selection policy has been that players have to be getting regular game-time for their side. Chelsea defender Gary Cahill’s form has dropped off in recent months causing Antonio Conte to prefer Antonio Rüdiger over the 32-year old defender. Southgate admitted earlier in the week that it “was probably a very difficult call” to drop Cahill who has been a regular with the three Lions down the years.
Along with the absence of Chris Smalling & Michael Keane, opportunity knocks for James Tarkowski of Burnley & Alfie Mawson of Swansea who has been called up for the first time. Both defenders are in their mid-20 ’s and have enjoyed impressive seasons with their respective sides. Tarkowski has been a key reason why Burnley is seventh place in the league. Whilst Mawson’s performances in central defence have helped Swansea pull away from the relegation zone.
An opportunity for both players to test their abilities against the attacking talents of Holland & Italy could sway Southgate to take at least one of the youngsters with him to the World Cup.
England takes on Holland in their first friendly match of the international break. You can watch the match Live & Exclusive on beIN SPORTS CONNECT.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (West Ham), Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley)
Defenders: Kyle Walker, John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Alfie Mawson (Swansea)
Midfielders: Eric Dier, Dele Alli (both Tottenham Hotspur), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Lewis Cook (Bournemouth), Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (all Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Jake Livermore (West Brom)
Forwards: Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)