Which of England’s debutants are most likely to be on the plane to Russia?
Russia 2018 is now less than three months away and the countdown to the world’s greatest sporting event is officially on. Come June, 32 of the worlds elite footballing nations will battle it out for sports most distinguished honour, the World Cup. These teams will be engaged in intense training routines alongside competitive fixtures within the next few months, with Southgate’s England facing four tough tests between now and then. These fixtures are a chance for a manager to work with his expected squad and understand his options in order to give them every chance come the finals in June.
Most managers will now have a strong incline as to who they will be selecting to take a place on the plane. Yet, with England and Southgate, this decision seems uncertain and muddled, and to guess his final 23 selected players at this moment would be a mere assumption.
After Southgate stating he would like his players to be playing regularly and in good form for their club side, this has prompted the Three Lions manager to name four uncapped players for their upcoming friendlies against the experienced Netherlands and Italy sides, who surprisingly will not be in Russia come June.
Unfortunately, Southgate’s selection choices are extremely limited within the Premier League this season with only 33.8% of players selected across the 20 clubs being eligible for the national side. This has forced the manager to name the likes of James Tarkowski, Nick Pope, Alfie Mawson and Lewis Cook ahead of some experienced and established international players for the friendlies which may give Southgate some further selection headaches after this international break.
With the selection of these uncapped players, 90MAAT considers these individuals and assesses which one of them is most likely to be heading to Russia in three months time.
- James Tarkowski
The Burnley centre half has been a fundamental factor behind the Claret’s success this season and unquestionably deserves a call up to the national side. Starting his career at Oldham, he joined Brentford in 2014 and went onto make over 70 appearances for the Bees. In February 2016, he made the switch to Burnley for an undisclosed fee. With Burnley having already established a preferred partnership of Ben Mee and Michael Keane upon Tarkowski’s arrival, the Englishman struggled to achieve any significant game time and spent his first few months watching on from the bench. Nonetheless, he continued to work hard and his breakthrough came as Keane departed for Everton last summer, which resulted in a promotion to the starting XI.
The 25-year-old is in fact eligible to play for Poland due to his family ties, yet he snubbed this chance and patiently waited for his moment to play for the Three Lions. With his first call up now under his belt, it will assuredly be a huge sigh of relief. His somewhat surprising call up should be no revelation when you cast an eye on the stats. The Clarets have only conceded a goal every 122 minutes when Tarkowski is included in the squad and aside from a slight injury break at the beginning of the year, alongside a spell missing due to suspension, he is a certainty in the Burnley back line.
All respect must go to Burnely manager, Sean Dyche, for the inclusion of Tarkowski and team mate, Nick Pope, in the recent England team. With the club currently sitting seventh in the Premier League, they have a considerable chance of playing in Europe next season and are beginning to build some impressive foundations to remain a Premier League club for years to come. As a side who do the simple things right, it is this simplicity and effectiveness from Tarkowski which has improved his selection chances.
As James himself stated, in today’s footballing game ‘you’ve got to be adaptable to any kind of style of play’ and with the defender liking to think he has both sides of his game, there are many England fans who will be full of optimism for this impressive centre half.
- Nick Pope
The deep discussion which has enthralled England fans and the nation currently is around the somewhat destitute goalkeeping situation. The number one position is undeniably up for grabs and who will be wearing the number one jersey come Russia is very unclear. One man who is looking to snatch this opportunity is Burnley shot stopper, Nick Pope.
After being selected for the upcoming friendly matches, Pope has said it would be a ‘massive honour to go to a World Cup’. Yet, the hopeful keeper will face stiff competition from fellow nationals in Hart, Butland and Pickford, who have all been selected for the upcoming fixtures.
The 25-year-old, although in magnificent form for his club side, has to be thankful to his teammate, Tom Heaton, for his inclusion. Heaton picked up a shoulder injury in September and has been out of competitive action until the past few weeks as has returned to the reserve set up. Heaton has himself not ruled out selection for Russia, and will be fighting to return to club action and to be included in Southgate’s final 23.
However, Pope has taken Heaton’s injury to his advantage and has produced some dazzling performances between the sticks for Burnley. It hasn’t just been Southgate who has noticed the keepers form, as he has gained many plaudits for his recent performances across footballing media.
There is no doubt that Pope is ready to take his chance playing for his national side. His fearless and gutsy nature is exactly what Southgate will be looking for and with the current state of affairs with the England goal-keeping situation, Pope is certainly a great contender to not only go to Russia, but to be England’s number one.
With only eight Premier League games remaining this season, there will likely be a battle between Pope and Heaton for not only Burnley’s number one position but a place on the plane to Russia. Pope, who is Burnley’s current shot stopper, has stated it is ‘every man for himself’ and that in order to be successful you have to be hungry and greedy, with this mentality the former non-league keeper is giving himself every chance for a trip to Russia.
- Alfie Mawson
Mawson stated during the week that it’s ‘humbling’ to be included in the senior squad announcement and that before Southgate’s selection for the upcoming friendlies, most people would not have even heard of him. In spite of this, Mawson has been in sublime form for the Swans this season and has been fundamental in their recent good run of form. Carlos Carvahal has mentioned in the past few weeks that he is very happy with Mawson’s progress this season and that his call up is a massive reward. If the Swans manage to beat the drop come May, the 24-year-old will certainly be thanked for his consistent and admirable performances at the centre of the resilient Swansea defence.
Unlike the two uncapped Burnley players mentioned above, Mawson has experience of playing for his national side and has enjoyed recent spells in the U21 side, appearing at the UEFA European Under-21 Champions in 2017 where they were knocked out by Germany.
The Swans centre half has managed six appearances for the U21 side and will be playing alongside some of the players he has previously played with at international level. Some of these, despite the fact they are younger in age, have considerably more experience in the senior squad and it will be these players who Mawson will be respecting and working alongside to make his time in the squad all the worthwhile.
Mawson has provided six goals in 57 Premier League appearances for Swansea to date and this side of his game makes him a valuable selection for the Three Lions. As he looks around at his companions in his position, there will be little experience to thrive off of with the likes of Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane all being left out of the upcoming friendlies. Although this maybe a surprise and some may consider Southgate as optimistic, these players have been showing the form he is after and some, which includes me, will surely praise Southgate for his selection.
- Lewis Cook
Out of the quartet of uncapped players to be selected for the fixtures against Netherlands and Italy, Cook is probably the most experienced playing for the national side. The youngster has appeared at every possible level for England and made 42 appearances across the age groups. He will certainly be relishing the opportunity to make his first senior appearance for the senior squad and if he continues to progress at Bournemouth, the youngest of the quartet will have every chance of being on the plane to Russia. Although a trip to the World Cup may be slightly optimistic, Cook is currently doing everything right.
Although the 21-year-old is probably the lesser known out of all uncapped players despite his vast England experience, he is certainly one to watch and after some impressive performances for Eddie Howe and Bournemouth this season. He will be looking towards players such as Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson to develop himself in the senior set up and will be taking inspiration from the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and co as he looks to emulate their England successes.
Having only just turned 21 in February the Bournemouth man has years ahead of him and if he is to not make an appearance in Russia or the upcoming friendlies then there will be no shame for the ex-Leeds United player as he is surely going to be part of the England set up for years to come.
It will be Cook’s grandfather who will be glued to the starting XI line ups for the matches vs Netherlands and Italy as he is set to net a staggering £17,000 after placing a £500 bet on his grandson to appear for England before he turns 26, three years ago.
90MAAT opinion: The most likely to be on the plane to Russia has to be Nick Pope. He has been in spectacular form for his club side and with the current conundrum of the England goalkeeping choices, he has a substantial chance to be included.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (West Ham), Jack Butland (Stoke), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley)
Defenders: Kyle Walker, John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Leicester), Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), James Tarkowski (Burnley), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), Alfie Mawson (Swansea)
Midfielders: Eric Dier, Dele Alli (both Tottenham Hotspur), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Lewis Cook (Bournemouth), Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (all Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), Jake Livermore (West Brom)
Forwards: Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal)
Written by Eamon Kitching.