Gareth Southgate says it is “impossible” to pick players on form alone for England after naming Kalvin Phillips and Harry Maguire in his latest squad.
The Manchester-based pair have racked up only 238 minutes, the equivalent of less than three full matches, between them in the Premier League since the start of 2023.
But the England regulars have kept their places in Southgate’s first squad since the World Cup, with the likes of AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse missing out, as well as Brighton duo Lewis Dunk and Solly March.
After being named permanent England manager in 2017, Southgate said he would “never pick on reputation, form has to come into it”.
But he has now rowed back on those comments when asked about the continued inclusion of some players who were not playing for their clubs – and said he still believes England’s pool of players is “short of depth” in some areas.
“It’s impossible [to just pick players who are playing],” he said. “We’ve got to pick our best players where possible, and then there’s a balance between going for a certain level of player who isn’t playing as regularly, or a level that’s physically fit and doing well.
“It’s interesting talking to other coaches of national teams that they feel the same, and they feel the same of picking your best players, so long as they can get to a reasonable physical level.
“That’s where we are with it, really. You’d love to have that depth, but we are shorter than the other big nations on depth of selection. I’m happy with the quality we have to pick from, but in certain positions we are short of depth.
“Those numbers are deteriorating rapidly in the Premier League, it’s not a concern for me in the next 18 months but in four of five years time, we have to be really careful on that.”
Southgate did reserve praise for March and Dunk, who have helped catapult Brighton to within two points of fifth-placed Newcastle, and still in with an outside shot of Champions League qualification.
Dunk’s sole England cap came in a friendly with the USA in November 2018 while March, who has scored three goals in his last five games, played five times for Southgate’s U21 side earlier in his carer.
“They are playing very well, their club are playing exceptionally well,” Southgate said. “The coach is doing an amazing job, he’s got the team playing in a unique style in our league.
“They’re having an outstanding season as a club. Solly, we had in the U21s with us, he’s a player we know well. But at the moment I don’t see him ahead of Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, in those positions on the field.
“They’re hard calls, but we’re always watching everybody regularly, live or on our system during the week.
“There’s not a game that we miss, and we know there are some players who are playing well for their clubs but I’ve got to pick the team and squad that I think best gives us the chance of winning in two really big matches coming up.
“Experience is part of that, we go to Naples and play Italy who are a top side – it’s a different sort of environment and you have to get that balance right of experience for those types of games.”
England’s squad in full…
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale
Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Eric Dier, Marc Guehi, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, James Maddison, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice
Forwards: Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Ivan Toney
Ivan Toney: More than a Kane understudy for England?
On the eve of Brentford’s first Premier League match in August 2021, Thomas Frank made a promise about Ivan Toney.
“He has got all the abilities,” said the Brentford manager. “His link-up play, his finishing, timing in the box and awareness, so I am sure he will score goals in the Premier League.”
The goals have certainly been there. Twelve last season, 16 this term with a dozen games to spare.
But it’s the link-up play that has been a key factor in Brentford’s success this season. It prompted Jamie Carragher to describe him as “one of the best attacking players in the league”, “an all-round footballer” and “reminiscent of Harry Kane”.
That last point is especially poignant given England’s squad announcement on Thursday. Despite a betting scandal hanging over the Brentford striker, Gareth Southgate has decided that Toney can not only fit into this England striking department – but bring something a little extra as well.