This afternoon has seen the latest England squad announcement from boss Gareth Southgate. England face the Republic of Ireland in a friendly game later this month before taking on Iceland and Belgium in UEFA Nations League fixtures and will be looking to bounce back from their defeat last month to Denmark.
With a spot in next year’s UEFA Nations League finals still up for grabs, England will be hoping to pick up maximum points from their two matches this time around. It won’t be easy, though, as Belgium remain FIFA’s top-ranked side right now.
With all of this in mind, here are five talking points following the England squad announcement.
#1 How highly does Gareth Southgate value Reece James?
October’s international matches were a decisively mixed bag for Chelsea youngster Reece James. The versatile 20-year old made his England debut in the friendly win over Wales and then went on to appear in the match against Belgium before being handed his first start in the loss to Denmark.
James was arguably England’s best player in that match, looking dangerous in his role as the side’s right-sided wing-back. However, after some shocking decisions throughout the match from referee Jesus Gil Manzano, the Chelsea man lost the plot at the end of the game.
As the full-time whistle sounded, an angry James confronted Manzano and had to be restrained by England teammate Jordan Henderson. The result was a red card, which means that James will miss this month’s matches against Iceland and Belgium through suspension.
With that in mind, it was a surprise to see him named in today’s squad at all, given he can only take part in the friendly against the Republic of Ireland. Of course, that suggests that England boss Gareth Southgate clearly values the Chelsea youngster very highly.
So could he be ahead of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold in the pecking order for the right wing-back spot? Based on his appearance in this squad and that outstanding showing against Denmark, it seems very possible.
#2 Is Kyle Walker now seen as a center-back for England?
When Kyle Walker was sent off in England’s September win over Iceland, the feeling was that the Manchester City right-back had reached the end of the road. With younger right-backs like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James muscling into the England squad, it seemed doubtful that Walker could make it back into Gareth Southgate’s thinking at the age of 30
However, Walker was recalled for October’s games against Wales, Belgium, and Denmark, and thanks to a tactical switch, suddenly seems like a certain pick again. That’s because Southgate has reverted to a back three, just as he deployed during England’s highly successful run in the 2018 World Cup.
To really make the most of a trio of central defenders, Southgate needs someone with plenty of pace in order to cover for the forward runs of his wing-backs, and just as in 2018, Walker provides plenty of that.
What’s more, the Manchester City man has plenty of veteran savvy, and with 51 caps to his name, he’s also one of England’s more experienced players.
The most interesting thing about this England squad, though, is that Southgate has named so many right-backs. In addition to Walker, Kieran Trippier has also been named in the squad alongside James and Alexander-Arnold too. That suggests that, for England, Walker is now seen as a center-back, which is an interesting development indeed.