With Bulgaria and Kosovo as opponents, it is the perfect opportunity to test out some young guns and previously uncapped players, so it was nice to see Mason Mount and James Maddison involved, but less so with Ross Barkley and Jesse Lingard. While some have praised Gareth Southgate for his “ruthlessness” in leaving out big names such as Kyle Walker, the game is one of opinions and rarely is there an overwhelming majority in agreement of the 25-man squad – a bit like Parliament, really.
For a bit of fun and light relief from the boredom of the international break, we’ve come up with an alternative XI picked exclusively from the Premier League – but don’t worry, we’ve got plans for the EFL, too!
Jordan Pickford is undoubtedly the #1 and Nick Pope is deservedly in the squad, but perhaps Tom Heaton’s spot could’ve gone elsewhere. We propose Sheffield United's Dean Henderson.
The 22-year old #1, on loan from Manchester United, played all 46 of The Blades’ games last season, conceding the fewest in the league at 41, and has helped his team to five points in their opening four games in the Premier League, including a clean sheet against Crystal Palace.
An honourable mention goes to Southampton's Angus Gunn. The 23-year old ‘keeper has played for England at U16, 17, 19, 20, and 21 level, and received his first call-up in November 2017 for a friendly against Brazil. The son of Bryan Gunn, who made over 400 appearances for Norwich and was capped six times by Scotland, was offered the chance to represent his father’s country, but turned it down to stay on the peripheral of the England set-up. The closest he’s come since 2017 was a spot in the World Cup 2018 training camp.
With Danny Rose and Ben Chilwell in the selection and Tyrone Mings able to play there too, the only international quality left-backs left in the Premier League are Luke Shaw and Ryan Bertrand, and both are injured. With that in mind, we propose a back three of Conor Coady, who should definitely have had a call-up by now, his Wolves teammate Ryan Bennett, and Bournemouth’s Steve Cook.
Wolves’ defence was one of the Premier League’s surprises last season, providing a strong base for Matt Doherty and Jonny to attack with freedom from the wingback position. This season, with European football as well, it will be hard to keep the back three fatigue free. Cook would be able to replicate Willy Boly’s role within the triumvirate.
Southgate’s loyalty to Kieran Tripper saw him recalled to the squad after an absence that the Atletico Madrid right-back admitted was deserved. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Trent Alexander-Arnold both got the nod ahead of Walker, so he could have been an easy pick for our right wing-back slot. However, Ainsley Maitland-Niles has had a solid start and looks to be establishing himself as first choice on the right side of an Arsenal defence that may well fluctuate been a 4 and a 5 over the course of the season
On the left, Norwich’s Todd Cantwell is a deserved pick with two assists and a goal in his first four Premier League appearances. Any Canaries fans who feel he should’ve been chosen have my full sympathies, but the consolation is that he was picked for England’s U21s.
The defensive counterweight in midfield is where Southgate’s squad lacks and it’s the same problem for the alternate line-up of ours. Instead, we’ve chosen a midfield duo that should be able to keep the ball: Jonjo Shelvey and James Ward-Prowse, with Harvey Barnes playing ahead of them.
After a couple of seasons in which Callum Wilson could have rightly become disgruntled with a string of England snubs, he now seems firmly in Southgate’s plans. Troy Deeney is another striker who also had a right to bemoan his situation, but at the age of 31 and currently injured, it looks likely that he’ll never earn an England cap.
With four goals in the opening four games of the season, Tammy Abraham is the easiest pick of this XI. His non-selection has been the biggest talking point of Southgate’s squad and headlines have ranged from focusing on his holiday destination this week – Barcelona – to whether he’ll switch national allegiances if he is snubbed again. At 21 years old and on his first Premier League hot streak, the hyperbole would become a rashness if it materialised.
He might be 29 years old and he may not fit the mould of international striker, but Ashley Barnes has been sticking the ball in the net at a prolific rate over the course of 2019. It may not be a long-term option, but the Euros are next summer and a striker in form belies age. For that reason, he partners Abraham up top in our alternate XI.
Dwight McNeil – Burnley
Jack Grealish – Aston Villa
Phil Foden – Manchester City
By Jordan Florit - @TheFalseLibero