Squad analysis – England’s Nations League team yields some surprises

Gareth Southgate’s 28-man team for the UEFA Nations League was announced on the September 15, and it’s safe to say some of the decisions left fans baffled.

With the return of Eric Dier to the England team after almost two years, and a first call-up for Brentford’s Ivan Toney, there have been several changes to the previous squad. England are set to play Italy and Germany on the September 23 and 26, respectively.

Let’s see how the squad could measure up.

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Goalkeepers

Dean Henderson | Nick Pope | Aaron Ramsdale

Newcastle United’s Nick Pope is the most experienced goalkeeper by far chosen by Gareth Southgate for the Nations League. With eight England caps under his belt, Aaron Ramsdale’s three appearances for the national team do not come close.

The major change here is a missing Jordan Pickford, ruled out on injury. Pope is likely to fill his gloves as the first pick, and Ramsdale is not a bad choice as his secondary. With the Newcastle goalkeeper keeping three clean sheets out of his six appearances thus far in the Premier League this season, he seems to be on great form to block out shots for England.

Although, Ramsdale’s talent with the ball at his feet could also see him featuring as the first-choice goalkeeper.

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Defenders

Trent Alexander-Arnold | Ben Chilwell | Conor Coady | Eric Dier | Marc Guehi | Reece James | Harry Maguire | Luke Shaw | John Stones | Fikayo Tomori | Kieran Trippier | Kyle Walker 

Once again, England has a surplus of right backs to keep the defence in check. Kyle Walker is the most experienced of the defenders on the teamsheet, boasting just under 70 England caps. However, he missed out on Manchester City’s midweek clash with Dortmund earlier in the week, which saw his England teammate John Stones moved to right back in his place (does this make it five potential right backs in Southgate’s squad?). Stones even got a goal out of his appearance, cementing his deservingness in the England squad.

Southgate has made a couple of solid selections in the defence. Take Eric Dier, who has become a central figure in Antonio Conte’s back three. His current form cannot be ignored. The same can be argued of youngsters Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi, who have put in some excellent performances during the start to the season.

However, some of the picks are more questionable. Manchester United’s Harry Maguire has received much criticism as of late, resulting in his being benched for three of the first games of the season. His appearance in the squad sheet is debatable at best, and downright laughable at worst.

Although, interestingly, Maguire is the defender on the team sheet with the highest number of goals for England, scoring a whopping seven. Joint runners up are Dier and Stones, with three apiece. Still, it’s unlikely that Maguire on current form could pull yet more goals out of the bag.

Luke Shaw, too, is a controversial choice. Southgate insisted he drew up a squad based on long-term form, yet Shaw’s recent performances leave a lot to be desired.

All in all, the defence is a mixed bag. There are some experienced members in there and a few fresher faces, but it remains to be seen what the first team line up will look like. Will Southgate opt for loyalty over recent form?

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Midfielders

Jude Bellingham | Mason Mount | Kalvin Phillips | Declan Rice | James Ward-Prowse

All is relatively quiet in the midfield, with few changes to the team. Given the twelve-man depth in defence, taking only five midfielders is yet another decision questioned by many, particularly as many of the midfielders are offering up a subpar performance for their squads this season.

Kalvin Phillips, star of the show during England’s Euros campaign, is a choice that has warranted criticism, with the 26-year-old only appearing in one match this season for Manchester City.

The other picks are performing mediocre at best, yet solid alternative options seem few and far between for the current squad.

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Forwards

Tammy Abraham | Jarrod Bowen | Phil Foden | Jack Grealish | Harry Kane | Bukayo Saka | Raheem Sterling | Ivan Toney

The main news story from up front is undoubtedly Toney’s first call-up to the senior men’s squad. Most would argue that it is fully deserved, with the Brentford forward currently third in the Premier League for goals scored with five. He is also ranked first for goals from outside the box, with two.

The 26-year-old was playing in League One four seasons ago, but his dogged attitude and undoubtable talent have earned him a place in this squad.

Meanwhile, there are some glaringly obvious gaps in this team sheet. Youngster Jadon Sancho is missing, despite his sparkling performances for Manchester United in what has otherwise been a rocky start to the season for the Red Devils. Ironically, he scored against Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League on the day of the squad announcement.

Lots of fans have argued that Sancho deserved the spot over squad member Jack Grealish, who has been rather quiet for Manchester City thus far in the season.

Another striker who looks to have missed out is James Maddison. Leicester City have had an abysmal start to the 2022/23 season, and yet Maddison has managed to shine nonetheless. He has amassed two goals and one assist in five matches. It is perhaps easy to see why Southgate omitted him from the team given Leicester’s situation, but is the team’s performance indicative of Maddison’s ability?

Largely, the choices up front are promising, but that does not mean the choices were easy for Southgate. Perhaps this can explain why so many England stars are set to miss out on these next few matches.

Final thoughts

Plenty of England fans do not fancy the team’s chances at the upcoming Nations League, particularly facing Euros winners Italy. Nevertheless, there are at least a handful of strong selections in Gareth Southgate’s squad; it would still have been nice to see more of a shake-up when many of his usual players are not shining.

The Nations League games are a great way to assess the team’s performance ahead of the World Cup, which for England begins on November 21 against Iran. The current squad could surprise the nation, but if it all goes wrong, there is just enough time to make drastic change.

The Author

Tiannah Pedler

Tiannah is an experienced content writer and copywriter with a diverse sports journalism portfolio. She also writes about motorsport and Formula One for Dive-bomb.com. In her spare time, you'll find her cooking for her food blog.

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