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Is Stoke’s Jack Butland the next in-line for England after another Joe Hart horror show?

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Jack Butland

Another match, another error as far as Joe Hart is concerned.

The 30-year-old goalkeeper hasn’t exactly enjoyed the best of times since returning to the Premier League with West Ham last month, conceding ten times in just three appearances so far this season.

This comes off the back of a relatively arduous spell in Italy with Torino, where he kept five clean sheets in 36 Serie A matches and conceded 62 goals – more than any other team inside the top-half.

And with the 2018 World Cup fast approaching on the horizon, is his first-team spot in jeopardy?

In all honesty, it should be.

Despite the fact that Hart has been at the forefront of the England national side since he made his debut almost ten years ago everything has an expiration date, and Hart’s form is not World Cup-worthy.

His woeful start to the Premier League season tells its own story but, within three minutes at Wembley on Monday evening, he showed once again why he’s not cut out for this level right now.

He was slow to get off his line following a neat chipped through ball to Stanislav Lobotka, and he offered worryingly little resistance as the Slovakian youngster prodded the ball just inches underneath his arm.

One thing that has plagued the England side for as long as can be remembered is that players are very rarely picked on current domestic form, instead being selected based on past performances and past importance to the national side, and Gareth Southgate has been guilty of this with his goalkeeper.

Speaking before the Malta and Slovakia games he re-iterated the fact that Hart remains his chosen number one, claiming that he’s England’s ‘best goalkeeper’, but the reality of this is that he’s wrong.

With the likes of Jordan Pickford, Tom Heaton and Jack Butland waiting in the wings there are further options that are in better form than the West Ham man, and these displays deserve an opportunity.

And it’s the Stoke City goalkeeper who could really pounce on Hart’s unimpressive run of form and make a last-gasp push to become England’s number one when the 2018 World Cup begins in Russia.

After being awarded a run in the England side prior to the 2016 European Championships, with a real feeling that he could be a first-team contender, he suffered a set-back during a friendly against Germany which saw him on the side-lines for a lengthy period, only returning to action at the end of last year.

But since then he’s shown the sort of form in the Premier League that a world-class international goalkeeper should, leading an always obdurate Stoke outfit from the back and setting a precedent.

His display in the shock victory over Arsenal a few weeks ago was nothing short of sensational, being subject to a Gunners’ barrage for 90 minutes but standing firm with some moments of brilliance.

On that occasion he made five excellent saves, won 100% of his attempted aerial claims and just generally commanded his back-line, keeping a watchful eye from the back and communicating well.

This is the sort of leader that England need heading forward, and if Gareth Southgate has any sense about him then he will know he must drop Hart to give someone like Butland a pre-World Cup chance.

The Premier League is still in its infancy this season so it’s hard to read into things too much but, should Hart’s form continue in this downward spiral, it’s a likely story his England day are becoming numbered.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

England

Three talking points as England earned a credible draw against Germany

Jake Jackman

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England

England ramped up their World Cup preparations with a friendly match against long-time rivals Germany at Wembley Stadium. Despite a number of drop-outs earlier this week, the Three Lions managed to deliver a confident performance and the match finished goalless. It wasn’t a bore 0-0, as both teams had chances to score, but a draw was probably a fair result. Gareth Southgate will have learned a lot about his players on Friday evening, especially those making their debuts. Here are three talking points from the match:

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a contender to make the World Cup squad

It was a pleasant surprise last week when Gareth Southgate named his squad for the upcoming friendlies, as he dropped players that hadn’t performed for England and replaced them with young, hungry players with potential. Ruben Loftus-Cheek wouldn’t have expected to be in the running for an England call-up at this stage of his career. He has had a promising start to a loan spell at Crystal Palace, but this was an early call-up.

Southgate knows the midfielder from his time as Under-21 manager and his decision to call up Loftus-Cheek looks a great one. The 21-year-old was positive in possession and played several forward passes that created good openings for the home side. Although none of them led to goals, the midfielder did cause problems for the world champions and looked at home at this level. He will need to show consistency and deliver at club level to remain in the manager’s thoughts, but this was a great start to life as an international player.

Leroy Sane is one of the best young players in the world

The Manchester City winger has been wowing the English public since moving to join Pep Guardiola’s side last summer. There are some that think he is helped by the players he is surrounded by at the Etihad Stadium and that might be true, but he is a great player in his own right and he showed that on Friday. Germany threatened a lot in the first half and their best player was Leroy Sane.

The quick-footed winger hit the bar in the first half with a great strike from distance, while he also saw an effort cleared off the line by Phil Jones. Defenders know what he is going to do when he gets the ball, but it is almost impossible to stop. Sane continues to develop on a weekly basis at Manchester City and this performance showed that he is going to be just as important for his country this summer.

Jordan Pickford staked his claim to be number one

The England goalkeeper’s position has been widely debated since Euro 2016, as Joe Hart has been on a downwards curve. He was initially dropped by Manchester City and has since been sent on two loan spells. The 30-year-old has failed to look as dominant as he once did at either Torino or West Ham United and that has opened up a possibility of England changing their goalkeeper ahead of the World Cup.

Jack Butland is many people’s favourite to take the jersey, but Jordan Pickford was selected on Friday and he gave a very good showing of himself. The Everton goalkeeper made three or four great stops to keep his clean sheet and looked at home on the international stage. He took the step up in his stride and that is an encouraging sign for the future. It may come too soon for him to be the number one in Russia, but this display puts him firmly in contention.

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Five players to watch from the England Under-17 World Cup squad

Jake Jackman

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England

England Under-17s delivered a dominant performance to beat Brazil to reach the Under-17 World Cup final on Wednesday. The team excited the nation as they were confident on the pitch, attacking the Brazilians with pace and purpose down the flanks. It wasn’t a display that was typical of English teams and offered hope that a brighter future is ahead for the Three Lions.

The concern will be that the league structure in this country isn’t the best for nurturing talent, but there is no doubt that the talent is there. The age groups from Under-17s to Under-21s have all fared well in major competitions in 2017. The Under-20 team won the World Cup and this Under-17 side will be hoping to replicate that success on Saturday. Here are five players to keep an eye on from the squad:

Steven Sessegnon

The Fulham full-back is one of the best talents to come through at Craven Cottage in recent times alongside his brother Ryan, who is already a first-team regular. Steven made his first-team debut earlier this season and has been described as the future of club by his manager Slavisa Jokanovic.

Like his brother, he has a lot of pace and is reliable in possession, capable of carrying the ball for long distances. Against Brazil, he was regularly trying to get forward to support attacks and offered a threat. Tottenham and Everton have both been linked with him, but he is currently at the right club to progress his career.

Tashan Oakley-Boothe 

The central midfielder is at the perfect club to make his first strides into senior football.

Tottenham have become the place to be for young English talent and Oakley-Boothe has been on the fringes of the first team under Mauricio Pochettino. He made his first-team bow against Barnsley earlier this season and has been on the bench for a Premier League fixture.

The teenager is confident on the ball and good at winning back possession, as has been evident throughout the competition. More opportunities could be on the horizon when he returns to Spurs as his manager is already a big fan.

Soccer Football – Brazil vs England – FIFA U-17 World Cup Semi-Final – Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Kolkata, India – October 25, 2017. England’s team celebrates their win. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

George McEachran

His older brother, Josh, was billed as the best player to graduate from the Chelsea academy, but he failed to make an impact in the first-team. The Blues have similarly high hopes for George and he will be itching to go one step further than his older sibling.

He is a similar player, as he is comfortable in possession, but he is more offensive and can be used further forward or on the wings. The midfielder has scored crucial goals for the youth teams at Stamford Bridge and his performances at the Under-17 World Cup enhance his reputation.

It could be a while before he plays for the first-team, but he is likely to be seen out on loan in the not too distant future.

Phil Foden

The player on this list with the best chance of making first-team progress this season is Phil Foden and he was the standout player against Brazil. Pep Guardiola is a known fan and has brought him up to the fringes of the first-team squad at Manchester City.

The midfielder is comfortable with the ball in tight spaces and distributes it intelligently for a player of his age. Coaches at the club have been excited about him since he joined as a child and a first-team debut is surely just around the corner.

Soccer Football – Brazil vs England – FIFA U-17 World Cup Semi-Final – Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium, Kolkata, India – October 25, 2017. England’s Rhian Brewster celebrates his goal. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

Rhian Brewster – Liverpool

It will be the young striker that takes the headlines tomorrow and deservedly so. He scored a hat-trick for the second successive round and is currently on course to finish as the tournament’s top scorer.

Brewster is a confident and accomplished finisher as he has shown during the last two matches, while his free-kick against Mexico in an earlier round was superb. His movement and technique on the ball mean that he is difficult to defend against.

There will be several Liverpool fans that will be hoping he gets a chance at some point during this season.

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England

Harry Winks’ journey from Tottenham academy to England squad

Jake Jackman

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Winks

Harry Winks has been on an upwards trajectory during the last two seasons and has earned a place in the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia and Lithuania. The 21-year-old was called up to the squad after Phil Jones and Fabian Delph were ruled out with injuries. This provides a huge opportunity to the young midfielder as the World Cup is less than a year away and a good showing over the next week could propel him into Gareth Southgate’s thinking for next summer.

The Tottenham player has made seven appearances for the team this season and has grown used to representing his country throughout his career playing youth football. He was capped by England at under-17, under-18, under-19, under-20 and under-21 levels, which underlines how highly he has been thought of within the national set-up since he broke through at youth level.

There are some that believe that this call-up comes too soon, as he has only started four Premier League matches since breaking through at Tottenham. The critics believe that his call-up is premature and that he hasn’t done enough to earn a place in the England set-up yet. However, it is more difficult to break through at a top-six club and Winks has looked impressive every time he has been given an opportunity.

If Gareth Southgate sees the 21-year-old as a future England player, there is an advantage of getting him in a squad early to take a look at him and see how he fits in. These next two games are ones the Three Lions should win and it is as perfect a time as any to give experience to young players coming through. Winks has passion for his country as shown by comments earlier this year that committed him to England rather than Spain, a country he qualified for through his grandparents.

“Obviously I have goals and ambitions that I’d love to achieve this year. Of course, I’d love to play for England this year, but that’s not something I’m saying I’m going to set myself to do. I’m just going to take it step by step in getting into the team.”

This shows good ambition and it is encouraging that he wants to play for England, as a few players in the past haven’t shown commitment to the national team. Although his lack of experience is a problem for some, team-mate Harry Kane is clearly a fan and spoke up the midfielder’s England chances before the call-up was announced:

“He’s waited patiently for his chance. He’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing, keeping his head down. [Winks is] a great player. On the ball, technically he’s fantastic. He reads the game very well, he can drive past players.”

It is more important for a newly called-up player to have the respect of the dressing room than the nation and these comments show that he is highly thought of within the game. There are a lot of Tottenham players in the England squad and that will help him adapt to the international game. Kane’s comments allude to Winks’ technical ability and that is something lacking in the current squad. It could be that Southgate has included the 21-year-old for this purpose.

His career to date

The Tottenham academy has been successful in recent seasons, as Danny Rose and Harry Kane are two players to graduate to the first-team. Harry Winks followed their path and looks set to make a real impression at the top of the English game. He has been around the first-team in training since the 2013-14 season and signed his first professional deal during the following summer.

Winks made his debut towards the end of 2014 in a Europa League game against FK Partizan, but it wasn’t until last season that he broke through as a regular member of the first-team squad. In August of last year, he made his Premier League debut and started for the first time in November. During his first start, he scored against West Ham to bring Tottenham back on level terms and repaid the faith that Mauricio Pochettino showed in him.

For the rest of the campaign, he was a regular from the subs bench and showed a level of consistency in his performances that suggested he belonged at the highest level. Pochettino has a great record of bringing young players through to senior football and Winks is benefitting from that. Earlier this year, he signed a new five-year contract, which showed the belief that Tottenham have in him.

“I’ve been playing for Tottenham since I was six, but I feel like I’m gradually getting a more important role,” 

It was a long journey for Winks to break through as a first-team player, but last season will be looked back on as the season that he emerged. A total of 21 Premier League and four Champions League appearances provided good experience to the midfielder and his performances underlined the potential that he possesses.

The 21-year-old’s career to date is made even more impressive by the fact he hasn’t been out on loan once. His development has been completed solely at Tottenham and that should offer encouragement to supporters. The academy is achieving real success at bringing players through with the right coaching without relying on clubs in the Football League to give them experience in senior football. This means that the players will be moulded into the club’s image, rather than picking up habits from elsewhere. Winks’ success in the first team shows the benefits that can bring.

What is next for Winks?

His primary focus over the coming week will be to impress Southgate and the rest of the England staff in training with the hope of making his debut during this international break. Even if he doesn’t make it onto the field, he will have the opportunity to prove his quality to the coaching staff, which would increase the likelihood of further international call-ups this season.

At club level, he has impressed during his run of appearances this season and at the age of 21, he will be pushing for a regular place in the first-team. The success that Harry Kane has had proves that Mauricio Pochettino is open to giving responsibility to young players. The Spurs manager is a huge fan of Winks, as shown by the following quotes reported by the Evening Standard:

“For me, he is the perfect midfielder, who can play box-to-box and as a holding midfielder,” 

The speed at which Winks has made his mark on senior football has given him no time to reflect on his success, but this England call-up will give him a taste of international football. If he continues to develop at Tottenham, there is no reason why he can’t become a regular for both club and country.

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