5 in-form players who must be in Southgate's England squad
From an overlapping centre-back to "one of the best players in the country", these players have started the season too well for Gareth Southgate to ignore.
Jack Butland’s disastrous start to the season at Stoke guarantees one thing: Gareth Southgate has a vacancy for a new goalkeeper.
And to fill it, the England boss need look no further than another member of his 2018 World Cup squad.
Pope had a strange time post-Russia. He dislocated his shoulder and was third-choice goalkeeper behind fellow England hopefuls Tom Heaton and Joe Hart at Burnley by the time he returned.
Now fully fit and back in Sean Dyche’s starting XI, Pope has made more saves than all but two stoppers in the Premier League so far this season, only conceding from open play at Arsenal.
A lengthy career as England’s No. 2 awaits.
Sheffield United and their overlapping centre-backs. A tactical fad, perhaps, but one that Southgate must take advantage of.
O’Connell takes up some outrageous positions, even if he does play on the left of a back three. See Sheffield United’s goal against Crystal Palace – he is standing on the byline as John Lundstram puts the ball in the net.
That he is rarely exposed at either end is testament to both his ability on the ball and defensive awareness. Southgate requires the former as much as the latter.
O’Connell still does the proper things properly. He ranks low for tackles and fouls across last season and this, but is among Sheffield United’s top three for interceptions and blocks, suggesting that he is rarely caught out positionally.
Eric Dier or Fabian Delph, whose England careers surely need pausing at least, can drop out, with John Stones capable of deputising in midfield when required.
Mount’s start to the season is the true inspiration for writing this piece.
The 20-year-old doesn’t seem to have found playing for Chelsea any more difficult than when he bossed the Championship for Derby last season.
He combines the industry to win the ball back with the quality to threaten the goal every time he has it. For both Derby and Chelsea he ranks inside the top three for shots, goals and key passes, while completing more tackles than any non-defender.
Southgate broke a self-imposed rule not to select from the Championship when picking Mount for a squad last October, so turning to him now is surely obvious.
Jesse Lingard – who hasn’t had a shot in 223 minutes of Premier League football this term – could miss out.
There can be no excuse to hold Maddison back from senior international football any longer.
OK, prioritising the Under-21 Euros made some sense. Yes, Southgate’s 4-3-3 system probably can’t accommodate Maddison’s best position.
But England are not a good enough side to leave out one of the best players in the country.
Last season, the 22-year-old created more chances than any Premier League player. This season, he already ranks in the top 12 for shots and key passes, while his wonderful assist for Jamie Vardy at Sheffield United on Saturday shows he is at the top of his game.
Dele Alli’s injury opens up an obvious vacancy in Southgate’s squad, but a place in the 23 still wouldn’t do Maddison justice – he must start.
Barnes’ stunning form extends way back beyond the start of this season, and surely merits an England call-up.
The 29-year-old – who is available for the Three Lions, despite having featured for Austria Under-20s – has netted 13 goals in 21 matches in 2019, including four in three this season.
The numbers show that this is no lucky streak. In the second half of last season, his xG tally was only beaten by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Jamie Vardy, Sadio Mane, Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah. This term, only Raheem Sterling, Aguero and Salah beat him in that metric.
Barnes is not only regularly in the correct positions to score all types of different goals, but has the technique to match. He has executed volleys, half-volleys, headers and cuter finishes on this run.
Southgate should turn to him in the knowledge that when he is on the pitch, he scores.
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