Southgate: 'There is real competition for places over the next 12 months'
Gareth Southgate acknowledged there was an element of going with the tried and tested in his squad selection for November’s crucial World Cup qualifiers. But the England boss did name-check a host of exciting youngsters in this afternoon’s press conference and made it clear there is still plenty of time for them to secure a place in Qatar should England qualify for the Finals next year.
The Three Lions currently sit top of qualifying group I, three points ahead of Poland and five in advance of Albania, with six still to play for.
England face Albania and San Marino this month knowing that four points from those two matches will secure their spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which takes place in Qatar in November and December next year.
The ten group winners taking part in UEFA’s European qualifiers will qualify automatically, whilst there will only be three play-off winners from the 53 teams.
With so much riding on the next two matches, it was announced this afternoon that Southgate has recalled the likes of Harry Maguire, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kalvin Phillips, Jude Bellingham and Marcus Rashford.
Southgate said: “We have trust in this group, we know the level they can get to, we know the experience that they have and we have picked the players we feel at this moment in time are best placed to help us do that job.
“In the end, we have to get the right results and we have faith in these players to get us over the line to qualification.”
— England (@England) November 4, 2021
He continued: “It is always difficult because we have so much competition for places. We had quite a few players missing last time, which means you bring others in and means you have more decisions to make.
“We also have young players who are playing well that haven’t quite made the squad so we have kept a reasonable amount of consistency really with the group that were with us in the summer.
“They did so well and we are only five international games on from that. But also there are players pushing that group really strongly.”
October’s matches against Andorra and Hungary saw a recall for Fikayo Tomori, with Maguire out injured, but the AC Milan defender has missed out this time as Southgate has opted for the experienced centre backs who were part of the Euro 2020 squad.
However, the England head coach highlighted a number of other talented young defenders who are currently pushing the likes of Maguire, John Stones, Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady for a much sought-after squad place.
He said: “Fik was with us last time and we have brought Harry Maguire back to go with the four centre backs who did so well for us through the summer.
“Ben White is starting to settle well now at Arsenal, Fik at Milan, Marc Guehi and Joe Gomez, who we know and love. He has obviously had a bit of an injury setback but I am sure he is going to get back playing and we know he can play at this level and he is a boy we have worked with very closely and we love.
“They are all pushing. There is still a step for a lot of them in the consistency and a lot of those boys are young defenders learning their trade so they are not going to be perfect.
“But throughout the team we are not perfect at the moment any way so we have to keep improving and all being well if we qualify, we have 12 months where there is going to be real competition for places and we have seen over the last 12 months how rapidly some young players can come through.”
One of the positions with the most competition is arguably right back and Southgate was asked about the position this afternoon.
He said: “We have fantastic competition for places there because Kyle Walker was in the team of the tournament for the Euros, Kieran Trippier hasn’t been selected this time to give a bit of an opportunity to Reece [James] and to Trent but is someone who has always performed brilliantly for us and has been a huge part of us getting to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final.
“He is a player that we have so much respect for and I am sure he will be back with us in the future.
“But Reece and Trent are performing at a really high level. I also think Tino Livramento, speaking about young players, has had an excellent start to the season, you have Tariq Lamptey, you have Max Aarons, we lost Matty Cash to Poland who is another really good young right back – it is an area of the team where we have a lot of competition for places and really good players.
“They have to defend well first and foremost, the bedrock of our team – we have conceded five goals in 18 matches – so defensively we have not been doing a lot wrong and in my opinion that is the first job of a defender, you have to defend well.
“If then we have good quality with the ball as well and we can create chances then it is an added bonus of course.
“The players we have in the squad in full back positions can do both of those things so it is about doing that on a consistent basis and doing that in the international team as you step up.”
Press conferences in the immediate aftermath of a squad announcement often consist of questions around who has been omitted and it was no different today.
Emile Smith Rowe’s name was mentioned as early as the second question and Southgate recognised he was one of three England men’s under-21 players who had really caught his eye of late.
“I think Emile, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guehi in particular are all playing really well with their clubs but we have depth. To put those in we have to leave some of these names on the team sheet out and it is not a bad thing that we are starting to get a very strong under-21 team because you want that depth.
“We fast-track lots of young players very quickly and the majority of them are still in this squad now and a lot of them played a big part in the Euros.
“But we have had some who have come up and then when you put them back with the under-21s it is a lot more complicated, so we want to get the timing of that right.
“I think the boys we mentioned there are on a very good path, we like them, we have a good chance to see them with the under-21s as well as their clubs but at the moment we think it is a little bit early for some of those guys to come in.
“We could put them in and they would be absolutely fine, by the way, but we think the players we picked are just a little bit ahead at the moment.”
Southgate was asked about the absence of both men, along with that of Manchester United team-mate Mason Greenwood, who has asked to be left out of previous squads so he could focus on securing his place in the starting XI at Old Trafford.
He said: “Mason’s situation I discussed last time, so we have been through that. With Jesse and with Jadon, they just aren’t playing a lot of football compared to the other players in their positions.
“I know people say I am inconsistent but I don’t think I am. If you are playing regularly for your club then you have a much better chance of us assessing your level compared to the rest of the group.
“Sometimes there will be players where you have a lot of depth in one position and there might not be as much depth in another position and the player who is in the position with less depth might have a better chance of getting in with less club time.
“With these two lads, they have great competition for places in the position they play. Jesse has had 10 to 15 minutes [since the October camp] and I don’t know what his form or his fitness is to assess him against the rest of the group.
“Both of the boys when I spoke to them totally understand that, they get it. At the moment they have to get playing for their clubs and playing well and then England is a bonus on the top.
“They are both players who have done well for us and I am sure they will be back with us.”
You can see the full Gareth Southgate press conference below and tickets for the Albania match at Wembley Stadium connected by EE on Friday 12 November are still available here.
— England (@England) November 4, 2021