England’s Jack Grealish during the UEFA Nations League match at Wembley Stadium, London
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England’s No 1 shirt is Jordan Pickford’s to lose — but now ruled out of this round of internationals and with Nick Pope and Dean Henderson providing stiff competition, the Everton goalkeeper’s injury may open the door to them.
Pickford has been a key figure under Southgate, his composure and passing range vital to the manager’s preference for playing out from the back. But his performances have come under scrutiny this season and he was forced out of Everton’s 2-1 loss to Burnley on Saturday after landing awkwardly on his right side.
Pope has enjoyed another strong campaign with Burnley, keeping nine clean sheets, while Henderson has impressed since coming into the Manchester United team in place of David de Gea, conceding only once in his last seven appearances. West Brom’s Sam Johnstone, meanwhile, is on standby if Pickford is unavailable.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher expects Southgate to persist with Pickford at this summer’s European Championship, but he feels it’s Henderson, rather than Pope, who is most likely to take his place in the long-term.
“I think Nick Pope would find it very difficult to ever become a regular for England because he plays for Burnley”, said Carragher on Monday Night Football last week.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to Sean Dyche or the club, but certainly the way they play and the way Gareth Southgate wants to play are completely different.”
“If Henderson is playing for Manchester United week-in, week-out, playing Champions League football at the top level where the pressure is as high as possible, I think it gives him a great opportunity — maybe after this tournament, because I think Pickford will keep his place for that.”
“Going forward into next season, if Henderson is the Manchester United goalkeeper, I think it’s very difficult not to pick him for England.”
Resurgent Shaw in line for recall
In defense, the biggest talking point is Luke Shaw’s likely return to the squad. The 25-year-old has only made two England appearances during Southgate’s tenure and has not featured since their 2-1 loss to Spain in the Nations League in September 2018.
He has been outstanding for Manchester United this season, however, providing considerable attacking threat from left-back and impressing defensively too.
With Ben Chilwell struggling for playing time at Chelsea, there could be an opening for Shaw not just in Southgate’s squad but in his starting line-up.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville feels he’s England’s best left-back and expects Southgate to reward his fine form this season.
“He’s been outstanding this season for United,” he said on The Gary Neville Podcast. “A Luke Shaw who is fit, physically good and confident is the best left-back in the country, in my opinion.”
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“Gareth Southgate will be watching him intently, thinking, ‘I know Luke Shaw, I’ve seen him before’.”
“He had almost given up on him, but you can’t give up on him now. Southgate is staring right at him and thinking, ‘that is the best performing English left-back in the country at the moment’.”
“Everything is right for Luke Shaw because he is an amazing talent. Physically he’s good, he’s got a good height about him, and maybe it’s deceiving people at home that he’s actually very good in the air, and he can play at left-side center-back.”
Neville likened Shaw’s return to form to that of Manchester City’s John Stones, another player likely to return to the England fold for the upcoming fixtures, but insists the next challenge for both of them is to produce consistency on a long-term basis.
“Both are having the best periods of their careers, but they’ve got to do it year in, year out for us to start to trust that this is really the breakthrough and the moment when they go from potential, to letting you down a little bit, to realizing that potential and being brilliant players over two or three seasons.”
Bellingham in frame for another senior chance
Jude Bellingham became England’s third-youngest senior player behind only Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott when he came off the bench during November’s 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland.
The teenager, 17 years and 137 days old at the time, is now in line for another call-up — providing there are no Covid-related issues around traveling from Germany — having been omitted from the latest U21 squad.
His move from Birmingham City to Borussia Dortmund last summer has worked out well, with the German side happy to give him plenty of playing time in central midfield and the youngster producing eye-catching performances in return. So far, he has made 21 Bundesliga appearances and provided three assists.
Jude Bellingham of England warms up prior to the UEFA Nations League group stage match between England and Iceland at Wembley Stadium on November 18, 2020 in London, England.
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There is plenty of competition in England’s midfield, of course, but with Jordan Henderson injured and Harry Winks having fallen out of favor at Tottenham, Bellingham may find his route into the team is a little clearer for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Jesse Lingard is another player pushing to be involved in midfield — albeit in a more advanced role than Bellingham.
The 28-year-old was previously a Southgate favorite and impressed during England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals. He lost his place in the squad when he fell out of favor at Manchester United but his outstanding form on loan at West Ham is sure to have put him back in Southgate’s thoughts.
Lingard’s West Ham team-mate Declan Rice, meanwhile, will hope to boost his starting credentials at the base of the midfield in Henderson’s absence. Like Lingard, the 22-year-old has shone for the high-flying Hammers lately.
Southgate has goalscoring options
A look at this season’s Premier League scoring charts highlights the attacking depth available to Southgate. There are six English players among the top 10 highest scorers in the division and a total of nine who have netted nine or more goals.
Two of them are unavailable in Jamie Vardy, who has retired from international duty, and Callum Wilson, who has been sidelined by a knee injury, but — in order of Premier League goals scored this season — Southgate can still call on Harry Kane, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Patrick Bamford, Ollie Watkins, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Harvey Barnes.
There is also Jadon Sancho, who has hit 12 goals for Dortmund this season, and others such as Danny Ings, Tammy Abraham and Michail Antonio who will also hope to be in the manager’s thinking.
Southgate can’t pick them all, of course — even with attacking midfielders Jack Grealish and James Maddison expected to be unavailable — but he’ll make his choices knowing there is plenty of talent in reserve – and knowing that plenty can change between now and this summer’s Euros.
What do the stats say?
As Southgate prepares to name his squad, we’ve compiled an England XI from the stats-based Sky Sports Power Rankings this season — and there are some surprise selections.
In goal, Burnley stopper Pope earns a starting berth between the sticks ahead of current England No 1 Pickford, according to the stats.
Five defenders from the Manchester clubs rank among the top seven in the Power Rankings — but Everton’s Michael Keane and West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell force their way into the XI.
Keane narrowly edges Stones, who pays the price for playing fewer minutes than the Everton center-back, but Cresswell secures his place at left-back ahead of Shaw — boosted by his seven league assists.
The stats present a new-look midfield, with Southampton workhorse James Ward-Prowse claiming a starting berth in the middle, either side of Mount and Leicester playmaker Maddison.
There is growing fluidity in wide midfield and forward roles and Foxes starlet Barnes is on the periphery of selection in both areas, while Rice narrowly trails Ward-Prowse for the holding role.
Up front, Kane and Grealish rank as England’s top-performers this season, guaranteeing themselves places in our XI, with Rashford claiming the final slot down the right flank — ahead of Sterling.
Our stats-based XI is limited to Premier League players but if we took into account other leagues, Rangers trio James Tavernier, Connor Goldson and Ryan Kent would all make the side based on their performances in the Scottish Premiership this season.
Elsewhere, Brentford striker Ivan Toney would earn a seat on the England bench as understudy for Kane thanks to his eye-catching performances in the Championship, while Jadon Sancho would join him among the substitutes, his dip in form at Borussia Dortmund this season costing him a place in the starting line-up.