Gareth Southgate has announced his latest England squad for March’s international friendlies — and there were naturally some eye-catching inclusions and omissions.
The Three Lions are in preparatory mode as football’s unprecedented winter World Cup in Qatar inches ever close, and Southgate has two key friendlies later this month against Switzerland on March 26 and Ivory Coast on March 29 to assess his latest batch of tournament hopefuls.
Given Manchester United’s current form, having been eliminated from the Champions League earlier this week and struggling to consolidate a position in the Premier League top four, it was perhaps no surprise to see Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho snubbed by Southgate.
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Sancho has started to realise his potential at Old Trafford since making his eye-watering switch from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, but Southgate has looked to explore options elsewhere in the attacking areas, with Emile Smith Rowe given the nod as one of his forward options.
At full-back, or more specifically right-back, where there is an abundance of talent, Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Chelsea’s Reece James were the preferred 2s over Kyle Walker, while Crystal Palace centre-back Marc Guehi has earned his first call-up.
“I had a chat with Kyle,” Southgate said. “We felt this was an opportunity to have a look at the two younger fullbacks. We know all there is to know about Kyle; he’s a very important player and he’ll be back with us in June.
“We are very happy with what he’s done; he’s been a huge part of the progress we’ve made with this team and you can see in the biggest matches with Manchester City this year, he’s still been a key player for them. These young fullbacks are exciting.”
Elsewhere, West Ham fans would have been disappointed to see Jarrod Bowen’s name omitted from the squad sheet. The adventurous winger has been a key performer this season and is actually England’s most productive player in 2021/22 with 16 direct contributions to his name (eight goals, eight assists).
Only Tammy Abraham of Roma can match that feat (13 goals, three assists), and Moyes has long been advocating for his attacking catalyst to be recognised by Southgate, urging the England manager (as recently as January) to pay closer attention to events transpiring at the London Stadium.
“When you look at the competition for England; Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho – it’s a decision for Gareth Southgate,” Moyes said recently.
“But he’s getting closer to people saying we should have a look at him and see what he can do. I don’t think he’ll be too far away, but the biggest thing is to keep playing well for West Ham.”
There was further claret and blue disappointment as fledgling midfielder Jacob Ramsey was ignored by Southgate. The 20-year-old Brummie has exploded onto the scene this term, flourishing under Steven Gerrard, and the Villa boss, like Moyes, recently backed his player for international recognition.
“I know the level of England players, I’ve played with some of them, I’ve watched many of them for a lot of years. Jacob Ramsey is right up there, let me tell you,” Gerrard said after Villa’s 3-3 draw with Leeds, in which Ramsey bagged a brace.
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Ultimately, Southgate still picked a fiercely competitive 25-man squad, with plenty of names to whet Three Lion appetite and get fans excited about the quadrennial World Cup, set to kick off in November.
England’s 25-man squad
Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), Nick Pope (Burnley)
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (Wolves), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Ben White (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
Forwards: Tammy Abraham (Roma), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Emile Smith Rowe (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
“You just have to look at the other attacking players in the squad; Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Phil Foden,” Southgate told reporters. “Jadon’s performances have improved at Manchester United, but it is an area where we have big competition for places.”
On Rashford’s omission, he added: “He is in the same position as everyone else, whether they are in the squad or not. They’ve all got to play well towards the end of this season and in particular at the beginning of next season. It is a difficult time for him, he’s clearly not at his best, but there is plenty of time. We know what Marcus can bring and hopefully he can rediscover the form he’s capable of.”