Southgate Bold in his England Selection, but Could have Taken More Risk
England might not win the World Cup. Actually, England won’t win the World Cup in Russia this summer, but there are already positives to take from manager Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad selection.
Southgate could have shied away and in the heat of battle opted for a safety-first approach like so many who have gone before him.
He could have picked Joe Hart as a senior figure in the squad. Instead, Southgate trusted what his eyes told him in that Hart has shipped 46 goals in 23 appearances for West Ham United in the campaign just finished. Given Hart has thrown in blunders for England on the big stage before, those are not the safe hands that are required.
It would still have been easy for Southgate to go for Hart’s established name, instead he has looked to the future and plumbed for Burnley’s Nick Pope as his third goalkeeping option.
It’s a similar story in defence, where Southgate could have elected to select Chris Smalling – an established name who represents the biggest club in the country, Manchester United.
Smalling has not often let his country down, but he is not a ball-playing defender who is comfortable in possession and capable of springing attacks. An uncapped player from Liverpool is, and Southgate has made the bold decision to pick teenager Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The 19-year-old was not on England’s radar at the start of the season, but in a little over a week he will be facing up to Cristiano Ronaldo and co when Liverpool take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Nothing has fazed Alexander-Arnold in his fledgling career, he certainly won’t possess any scars of past England disappointments, and his selection is a nod to the future and how Southgate wants to play.
“I believe this is a squad which we can be excited about,” Southgate said, per the Guardian. “It is a young group, but with some really important senior players so I feel the balance of the squad is good, both in terms of its experience, its character and also the positional balance.
“We have a lot of energy and athleticism in the team, but players that are equally comfortable in possession of the ball and I think people can see the style of play we’ve been looking to develop.”
Arguably the one knock on Southgate’s selection in terms of how he wants to play and looking to the future is in attack. In selecting Arsenal’s Danny Welbeck, he has played it safe.
Welbeck has a good goalscoring record for his country, but he’s never been prolific and in all probability he will be an impact player from the bench.
Southgate could have been far bolder and selected a relatively unknown quantity for that slot in the guise of Jadon Sancho.
The teenager is not afraid of making bold decisions, as he showed when he quit Manchester City to seek out first-team football and took a profound leap by heading to Germany with Borussia Dortmund.
He took a bit of time to settle, but has been on fire in the dying embers of the season with three goals and an assist.
Sancho has electric pace, dazzling feet and the confidence of youth.
It would have been nice to see Southgate really push the boat out, but he has at least moved away from a safety-first approach and that can only be positive going forward.
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