With the final international break before this summers World Cup approaching next week, we wonder what wildcard options Gareth Southgate could look to explore.
Southgate has the opportunity next week to both attempt to establish and nail down some of his squad against Netherlands and Italy, while also getting to look at some more left-field names and consider how they could prove to be good options for England.
Southgate also has a number of players out through injury at the moment, most notable Harry Kane who is out for an as-of-now unspecified amount of time, so the former Middlesbrough manager may need to look at alternatives in case the worse case scenario occurs.
Southgate is due to announce his squad for the two friendlies on Thursday, and here are some of the left-field players that the manager could look to include.
Considering the goalkeeping situation, it is widely expected that Joe Hart, Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland will take their seat on the plane come June, so Southgate should look to experiment with other options now. Nick Pope has been exceptional this season and certainly deserves a shot. Pope has the best save percentage of all the English Premier League goalkeepers this season (that have played 10 games) at 80.2%, followed by Karl Darlow of Newcastle and Fraser Forster.
However, despite their impressive save percentages, Darlow and Forster have been culpable for many mistakes this season, with Darlow suffered four errors leading to shots, and one leading to a goal, while Forster has four errors leading to shots and two leading to goals. Pope is the only of the seven English options in the Premier League that have made zero errors leading to both shots and goals.
Tom Heaton is another option, although his game time this season has been limited by injury and later, the form of teammate Pope. Championship ‘keeper Angus Gunn is the extreme wildcard, having been called up in November for the injured Butland, although he didn’t make an appearance.
Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier have all but sealed their spot as England’s right-back duo, but the left-side of defence is more open. Danny Rose will go if he’s fit, and while Ryan Bertrand should join him, Southampton’s poor season hasn’t helped his case. Ashley Young is the man who could well be on the plane, having made his return to the international set-up in November. Ryan Sessegnon would be a surprise inclusion, purely due to his age (he’s 17) and his division (playing for Fulham in the Championship), but his performances wouldn’t indicate any surprises, as he’s been fantastic for the Cottagers this season in an advanced role.
In the centre of defence, James Tarkowski is the first name that comes to mind. Nick Pope has taken most of the plaudits this season, but he isn’t the only Burnley boy who has upped his game. Tarkowski was given the tough task of filling in the hole left by the out-going Michael Keane, and not only has he done so admirably, he’s surpassed Keane in many people’s eyes. Alongside Gary Cahill, John Stones, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire and Joe Gomez, Tarkowski wouldn’t look out of place.
Before this season, Jesse Lingard would have been considered by some a wildcard, but given his performances this season, he’s certain to be on the plane as a main player. Harry Winks could also be considered as such, but for me, he’ll be involved this month anyway. Danny Drinkwater has begun to pick up more game time for Chelsea recently, and if he can sustain a period of form then he could be an option. Theo Walcott is another who has an outside shot. He disappeared from the England scene while at Arsenal, but since moving to Everton, he has become rejuvenated and may force Southgate to think, especially given England’s lack of wide players.
If injuries weren’t so problematic for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, he’d be looking extremely likely. Having just come back from a spell out, Loftus-Cheek faces a race against time to prove his worth, and he could well do so in the England team next week if selected. The real wildcard out of the midfielders though is James Maddison. The Norwich midfielder has attracted plenty of Premier League attention this season, and doesn’t look likely to be playing at Carrow Road next season.
We’ll get straight to the one in all of the newspapers, Glenn Murray. The former Crystal Palace man has been pulling up trees for Brighton this season, and under any other circumstances he would have earned a call-up. Doubts have emerge due to his age, with the 34-year old seen as over the hill and not the future of England. A younger option is Callum Wilson, who has been constantly linked with a call-up, but injuries and/or form have always let him down. Southgate could look to throw him in at the deep end and see what he’s got to offer. Tammy Abraham also looked in with a chance at the beginning of the season, but a second half of the season drop off leaves the Swansea-loanee with a lot to go.