Who’d be an England manager? No matter who you pick in your squad there are going to be complaints. At various stages, Gareth Sputhgate has been accused of bring too obsessed with players from the big six clubs, too loyal to stalwarts, too cautious, too bold, too out of his depth.
Yet the whining about the current England squad – from Ian Wright, especially – does feel a little more warranted than usual. There have been some brilliant English performers this season, so we’ve made an alternative XI made up of those not picked, that possibly should have been.
GK: Nick Pope (Burnley)
Burnley have struggled so far this season and are sitting in the drop zone having won just one of their 11 Premier League matches. Goals have been hard to come by, but they’ve also let more in (17) than you might usually expect from Sean Dyche’s side.
Yet it’s safe to say they’d be in far worse shape were it not for Nick Pope, who has been in encouraging form since returning from a long-term injury which caused him to miss the Euros. His 33 saves so far place him fifth in the goalkeeper’s charts and he is slowly regaining confidence. It shouldn’t be long before West Brom’s Sam Johnstone is displaced.
CB: Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace)
Eyebrows were raised when Guehi was signed for a hefty €24m from Chelsea in the summer, but it has so far proved a masterstroke. The 21-year-old has slotted seamlessly into a revitalised Eagles backline and looks as if he’s been playing Premier League football for years.
Guehi has the pace, strength and intelligence to become a legend at Selhurst park, and Chelsea may regret letting him depart – particularly with a number of experienced defenders set to leave at the end of the season. Already capped 12 times for England’s U21s, Guehi is a player Southgate will be keeping an eye on in the months to come.
CB: Ben White (Arsenal)
After a subpar start to the season, Arsenal are starting to click. The Gunners lost their first three games of the campaign – two of which were missed by their new signing from Brighton – but have since gone on a run of eight matches unbeaten, keeping a clean sheet in five of those.
White’s intelligence, pace and ability on the ball have been key to that turnaround, and the 24-year-old is already developing an exciting partnership with Gabriel Magalheas. Mikel Arteta’s side are flying, and it’s odd that Southgate didn’t feel compelled to reward White with a call up this time.
CB: Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan)
Former Chelsea man Tomori has become a mainstay for AC Milan after swapping the Premier League for Serie A, initially on loan, in January 2021. The 23-year-old has played every minute for an unbeaten Rossoneri, who sit joint top of the table with Napoli.
Many Blues fans were unhappy to see the youngster sold on a permanent basis in the summer, but Tomori is thriving on the continent, and Southgate will be impressed with the bravery Tomori has shown in moving abroad in order to further his career.
RWB: Demari Gray (Everton)
Gray’s £1.5m arrival from Bayer Leverkusen barely went noticed at Goodison Park. It was a low fee for a player who has struggled to make the most of his potential until that point. Yet the Englishman has started the season in explosive form, scoring three goals in his opening four games and providing two assists since then.
While primarily an attacking player, Gray is a versatile performer who is comfortable playing on either wing and has the workrate to play as a wide midfielder. Keep up this promising form, and Southgate could be tempted.
CM: Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace)
One of the standout performers of the season so far, Gallagher is playing more like a veteran of 50 England caps than a youngster still awaiting his first England call up.
The heartbeat of an Eagles side which continues to defy expectations under new boss Patrick Vieira, Gallagher ranks among the better midfielders in the league in terms of successful crosses, shots on target and interceptions. More importantly, he has four goals and two assists from 11 games so far and is brimming with confidence. Palace will be kicking themselves they only loaned Gallagher from Chelsea this season, instead of making a permanent move for the 21-year-old.
CM: James Maddison (Leicester City)
After a slow start to the season, Maddison appears to be slowly finding form again, scoring the winner against Brentford in late October a few days after teeing-up Leicester’s winner over Spartak Moscow in the Europa League.
The 24-year-old is among the most naturally gifted creators in England, but has fallen foul of Southgate in the past over a perceived lack of focus. On his day, he remains one of the most potent attacking threats in the country, but he’ll need to keep his form up if he’s to make the Three Lions squad ahead of the World Cup next winter.
RW: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United)
Bowen has been one of the driving forces behind the success David Moyes has overseen at West Ham over the past two seasons. The 24-year-old is quick, powerful, direct and has a great end product. Already on two goals and four assists this season, the winger also ranks among the best in the league for distance covered, successful crosses, key passes and shots.
Jurgen Klopp is said to be a huge admirer of Bowen’s intensity and directness, perhaps Southgate could do with casting an eye over the Hammers forward too.
CF: Ivan Toney (Brentford)
Many expected Toney to adapt well to life in the Premier League after an astonishing goal scoring record (31) in the Championship last season. While many strikers have failed to make the jump in the past, Toney exuded a confidence that made him a dead cert to succeed in the top flight.
And while goals have been harder to come by in the top flight for the 25-year-old (he has two in 11 appearances so far), his workrate and speed and strength have shone in the early stages of the season. Toney’s 112 duels won and 66 aerial duels won are the highest of any player in the Premier League. If he keeps working hard, the goals will start to flow and Southgate will be unable to ignore him.
LW: Dwight McNeil (Burnley)
No player has blocked more opposition passes (42) or played more crosses (54) than McNeil. He also ranks in the top 10 players for duels won and dribbles. In short, he’s an all action, all-rounder and Burnley would be even deeper in the mire without his relentless running.
Long-tipped for a career at the very top level, the 21-year-old is now showing his gifts on a more consistent basis and a move to a bigger club will surely be the stepping stone required for Mcneil to convince Southgate of his abilities.
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