Southgate goes for youth in bold, daring and ruthless England squad

Gareth Southgate has been bold and he has been ruthless. 

But for all the daring and for all the thought that has clearly gone into selecting an exciting young group of players who leave for Russia on June 12, the omission of Adam Lallana remains a surprise.

Southgate can point to the fact that the 30-year-old attacking midfielder has endured a season badly interrupted by injury. 

Gareth Southgate has confirmed his 23-man England squad for this summer's World Cup

Gareth Southgate has confirmed his 23-man England squad for this summer's World Cup

Gareth Southgate has confirmed his 23-man England squad for this summer’s World Cup

Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana, who has been plagued by injuries, was left out of the squad

Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana, who has been plagued by injuries, was left out of the squad

Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana, who has been plagued by injuries, was left out of the squad

But Lallana is understood to have told Southgate earlier this week that he is now fit, and that makes the decision to name him among the standby players, and instead select a ninth defender, highly questionable.

Lallana might not start against Real Madrid in next Saturday’s Champions League final but Jurgen Klopp feels as though he is travelling to Kiev with an exciting new signing on the plane. 

To Liverpool’s manager Lallana offers an impressive combination of skill, commitment and stamina that usually makes him a strong contender for the starting line-up, never mind the squad.

By the time England head to the tournament it is possible, of course, that Lallana will be among the party. 

Lallana is currently in Spain, training with his club ahead of the Champions League final

Lallana is currently in Spain, training with his club ahead of the Champions League final

Lallana is currently in Spain, training with his club ahead of the Champions League final

Arsenal playmaker Jack Wilshere was also omitted from the 23 by Southgate on Wednesday

Arsenal playmaker Jack Wilshere was also omitted from the 23 by Southgate on Wednesday

Arsenal playmaker Jack Wilshere was also omitted from the 23 by Southgate on Wednesday

One injury and one would hope Southgate decides to take a bit of a chance, having already made the sensible call not to gamble on Jack Wilshere when the gifted Arsenal midfielder continues to look too fragile for the rigours of tournament football.

But Lallana and a curiously high number of full backs aside, this, as Southgate said on Wednesday, is ‘a squad we can be excited about’.

There is an element of risk. The selection of three goalkeepers with only nine caps between them could become an issue even if it is difficult to argue against Southgate’s decision to ignore Joe Hart.

Jordan Pickford does seem to be England’s No 1, despite having made only two international appearances, but there are echoes of the uncertainty that surrounded the goalkeeping position before the 2010 World Cup. Rob Green made one mistake against the USA and Fabio Capello ditched him for David James.

On this occasion Southgate is probably right to go with club form over international appearances but if there are any issues over Pickford, England will turn to Jack Butland, who has had a tough season behind the worst defence in the Premier League. 

Joe Hart, who has won 75 caps for his country, was not included as one of three goalkeepers

Joe Hart, who has won 75 caps for his country, was not included as one of three goalkeepers

Joe Hart, who has won 75 caps for his country, was not included as one of three goalkeepers

Stoke's Jack Butland (pictured) is in the squad alongside Nick Pope and Jordan Pickford

Stoke's Jack Butland (pictured) is in the squad alongside Nick Pope and Jordan Pickford

Stoke’s Jack Butland (pictured) is in the squad alongside Nick Pope and Jordan Pickford

Southgate knows Butland well from their time spent together in the Under 21s and the trust the manager shows in his players is evident in the way he has allowed them to go on holiday this week.

He made it clear he did not want anyone to embarrass him when he relaxed the policy implemented before the 2016 Euros. But as one FA insider remarked, stopping the players going away did not exactly pay off against Iceland.

Southgate clearly feels this group has evolved under his leadership and are ready for the demands of a World Cup, on and off the pitch.

The degree of change since Southgate took charge, initially as an emergency replacement for Sam Allardyce, is the most startling aspect of this squad.

There are only five survivors from the group Hodgson took to Brazil in 2014 — Jordan Henderson, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling.

But more staggering still is the transformation of the England squad during Southgate’s relatively short reign. Of the 25 players he picked for the World Cup qualifier against Malta in October 2016, only 11 made the cut on Wednesday.

The degree of change since Southgate took charge is the most startling aspect of this squad

The degree of change since Southgate took charge is the most startling aspect of this squad

The degree of change since Southgate took charge is the most startling aspect of this squad

It should be noted that Harry Kane was absent with injury then and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be going to Russia were he not injured. But Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling, Ryan Bertrand and Hart are major casualties and their absence represents a significant cultural shift. Indeed, not one of the 23 named on Wednesday has won a World Cup game.

Southgate has a clear vision of how he wants this side to play and his courage in trying to execute his plan on the biggest stage of all is commendable.

The selection of the uncapped Trent Alexander-Arnold would suggest his experiment with Kyle Walker on the right side of a back three is one he will revisit in the tournament, while the inclusion of Ruben Loftus-Cheek also underlines the ambition of this England manager.

There are potential areas of weakness. England are short of the quality they have boasted at centre half and in central midfield but there is an abundance of attacking flair that should give Southgate cause for optimism. 

The inclusion of Ruben Loftus-Cheek also underlines the ambition of this England manager

The inclusion of Ruben Loftus-Cheek also underlines the ambition of this England manager

The inclusion of Ruben Loftus-Cheek also underlines the ambition of this England manager

It was heartening to see Ashley Young matching Marcus Rashford for excitement on social media

It was heartening to see Ashley Young matching Marcus Rashford for excitement on social media

Manchester United’s versatile Ashley Young is one of the older heads among the squad

He talked about having good ‘positional balance’ in his squad on Wednesday but if he gets the balance right in the side, attacking players of the quality of Kane, Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard should give England a fighting chance even in their challenging group game against Belgium.

And there is a healthy balance between experience and youth, even if it was heartening to see Ashley Young matching Marcus Rashford for excitement on social media when their selection in the squad was confirmed at 2pm on Wednesday.

Young is older than Rooney but he gets his reward for being a good professional who, at nearly 33, is still delivering. Only recently I saw Young with two mates in a supermarket on a Saturday evening. They were buying sweets.

Further changes may well follow. ‘History tells us that one of those standby players may end up in the squad, as it’s very unusual for us to get through the end of the season and our two preparation games without any issues,’ said Southgate on Wednesday.

If such a setback occurs, another fine professional, and an excellent tourist like Lallana would be a worthy beneficiary. 

 

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