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.
Five players to watch from the England Under-17 World Cup squad
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Harry Winks’ journey from Tottenham academy to England squad
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.
England edge towards World Cup qualification but they are no longer a force to be feared
So, that is pretty much job done for Gareth Southgate.
Victory against Slovakia on Monday evening at Wembley has all but guaranteed that England will qualify for the World Cup in Russia barring a total collapse in the last round of fixtures. It is inconceivable that the national team, despite its recent trials, tribulations and failures, will fail to pick up the two points required to cement their place at the top of Group F from the remaining games against Slovenia and Lithuania.
For Southgate, qualification will come as a relief rather than something to be celebrated. In fact, the 47-year-old was breathing a sigh of relief on Monday when strikes from Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford clutched victory from what was threatening to become a precarious scenario after his side had fallen behind less than three minutes after the game had kicked off. However, a win is a win and the England players will be heading back to their domestic clubs this week safe in the knowledge that a spot in Russia in 2018 is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
However, the latest international break has done little to persuade onlookers that England have made any notable progress since they were knocked out of the European championships last summer. Southgate’s team were jeered off after an unconvincing performance against Malta and whilst the players showed character and grit to recover from a one goal deficit on Monday there is little to suggest that England are any closer to challenging for major honours than they were just over twelve months ago.
There needs to be an acceptance now that the national team are no longer a force to be reckoned with.
England haunted by the same issues
Gareth Southgate has managed to steady the England ship following the controversial departure of Sam Allardyce after just one fixture, but the national team are still dogged by the same issues that have been prevalent for the last decade.
Tactically, England are rigid and inflexible. On Monday evening Southgate once again elected to deploy the 4-2-3-1 formation that he has favoured since his appointment. Whilst the 47-year-old will point to the fact that his tactics have facilitated two victories, neither of the performances against Malta or Slovakia were entirely convincing nor free flowing. There is no sign of a distinctive style of play and the team is lacking an identity.
However, that may simple be down to the personnel at Southgate’s disposal.
There is a real lack of quality throughout the current England squad when compared to the calibre of player that was available for selection in the so-called ‘golden generation’. Is Phil Jones really on the same level as Rio Ferdinand, John Terry or Sol Campbell? Are Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier even worthy of tying the laces on the boots of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes? Is Ryan Bertrand anything other than half the fullback that Ashley Cole was? Is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain anything more than just a headless chicken with pace and no end product?
The England squad consists of players that are bang average when compared to the iconic figures of the past or even their counterparts at other national teams. Barring the contributions of Deli Alli, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford you would be hard-pressed to identify any player that had produced a performance that would rate as anything more than a 6/10 from the last two games.
Making up the numbers
England are no longer a significant power in international football.
Yes, the national team may still be capable of qualifying for major tournaments with relative ease but all of the signs indicate that once they come up against an opponent of note they will crumble. If England can just about edge out the superpowers of Malta and Slovakia then how are they expected to be able to defeat a team of the calibre of, say, Germany or Argentina?
In comparison, the German’s easily defeated Norway by six goals on the same evening that Gareth Southgate’s side were forced to overturn a one goal deficit on home turf in front of the lowest attendance at Wembley Stadium for three years.
So England can breathe a sigh of relief that qualification to Russia is all but confirmed, yet there is still nothing to suggest that the national team will be heading to the 2018 World Cup as anything more than a side to make up the numbers.
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