This week has seen Gareth Southgate name his latest England squad for the Three Lions’ upcoming UEFA Nations League matches against Iceland and Denmark.
And while there were plenty of talking points around the inclusion – and eventual removal – of Manchester United captain Harry Maguire, the squad was also curious due to the absence of a number of notable names.
England regulars such as Ross Barkley and Dele Alli were not included but perhaps didn’t merit inclusion this time anyway.
However, the following five players definitely made a case for being part of this squad and were surprisingly overlooked.
Here are five players who should’ve been included in the England squad.
#1 Jack Grealish
Perhaps the most talked-about absence from the current England squad is Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. The Villans captain has enjoyed a tremendous first season back in the Premier League. But despite performing tremendously, he’s still awaiting his maiden senior cap for the Three Lions.
Grealish definitely has the stats behind him to justify a call-up. Despite Villa’s struggles in the 2019-20 campaign – surviving relegation on the final day of the season – Grealish was still able to contribute eight goals and six assists.
But that’s not all. The Villa captain also created more chances (91), won more free-kicks (167) and received more Man of the Match awards from Sky Sports than any other English player. So why wasn’t he included?
Essentially, Southgate has justified his decision by suggesting because Grealish largely played in a wide role for Villa this season. He’s in direct competition for a spot with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, and Marcus Rashford – proven international performers.
Of course, that’s not the full truth. The Villa captain is more of a traditional playmaker who happens to be used in a freer role for his club as the majority of their attacks go through him. And England’s current system doesn’t tend to use a traditional playmaker – or #10 – as would be his preferred position.
However, that doesn’t mean his form doesn’t warrant a spot in the squad. If nothing else, Grealish could provide the kind of maverick spark that England have lacked at times in the past. If his form continues into 2020-21 though, surely Southgate won’t be able to ignore him for much longer.
#2 Bukayo Saka
To say the England squad named by Southgate this week is somewhat unbalanced would be an understatement. For reasons known only to him, the Three Lions boss has called up three right-backs, four centre-backs, but no recognised left-backs.
Admittedly, Southgate had good reason to leave out the three left-backs he’s used in recent internationals. Ben Chilwell of Chelsea and Luke Shaw of Manchester United are both carrying injuries. Danny Rose of Newcastle United has been out of form. However, to not take a left-sided specialist seems baffling.
The issue only becomes more confusing when you consider that Bukayo Saka of Arsenal. He has been used as a left wing-back on numerous occasions and was in tremendous form throughout the 2019-20 campaign.
When the season recommenced after lockdown, in particular, Saka was fantastic for the Gunners. He scored the first goal in their 0-2 win over Wolves and ended the season with a total of four goals and 11 assists in all competitions. For comparison’s sake, Chilwell totalled three goals and as many assists, despite starting far more games.
It’s true that Saka is still raw at 18 years old and may not end up playing as an orthodox left-back. But with Southgate’s England using their full-backs as a primary attacking outlet, calling him up for these games seemed like a no-brainer.
Instead, Saka has been called up by England’s U21 side. And while that’s all good for now, you can’t help but feel like Southgate missed a trick by not handing him a debut senior cap in the upcoming games. He could have sealed Saka's future for England in the process.