Football Features

England squad: Big winners & losers from latest Southgate announcement

By CJ Smith

Published: 11:06, 1 October 2021

The England squad for October’s World Cup qualifiers has been announced.

Gareth Southgate’s men have made a blistering start to their campaign to reach Qatar 2022, winning five and drawing one of their six games so far, scoring 18 goals and only conceding twice. Up next for the Three Lions is a trip to Andorra on Saturday before hosting Hungary on Tuesday night.

As always, the England squad announcement has caused plenty of division, with some quietly content to see players from their favourite clubs represented, while others are fuming at high-profile admissions.

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Here are some of the big individual winners and losers.

Winner: Fikayo Tomori

More than a few were calling for Fikayo Tomori to be included in the England squad for Euro 2020 over the summer. And those voices only got louder ahead of the previous international break, given the centre-back’s form since joining AC Milan in January.

Since making his Serie A debut, only seven players throughout the entire Italian top-flight have made more clearances than Tomori (72), while the 23-year-old is clear among AC Milan players for aerial duels won (41) and interceptions (28).

Milan currently find themselves in second-place in Serie, having conceded the second-fewest goals this season so far (three in six games).

The former Derby County loanee finally has his reward, with Southgate impressed by Tomori’s “aggressiveness”, as well as his ball-playing skills and proactive nature.

“I like Fikayo [Tomori] in terms of his aggressiveness of defending,” the England boss said at his recent press conference. “Because he’s got speed, he’s confident enough to defend on the front foot and he’s improving on the ball as well.

“I have been very impressed. I thought he finished last season well. We were tracking him well last season and he is playing well this season. He is at a club that’s expected to win every week, I thought he did well against Liverpool and Juventus.”

Loser(s): Mason Greenwood & Jude Bellingham

Man Utd have one wideman in the England squad, but Jadon Sancho probably isn’t the one most deserving of that spot if we’re going off early-season form. Mason Greenwood already has three Premier League goals to his name this season and although his scoring has dropped off in recent games, the youngster has continued to put in strong, dynamic performances.

Jude Bellingham is also unlucky to be omitted, continuing his rise as one of the most promising players in Europe, and a cornerstone of the Borussia Dortmund starting XI.

But then again, perhaps ‘losers’ isn’t quite the most accurate descriptor here. Southgate has explained his reasoning is rooted in player welfare.

“They (Greenwood and Bellingham) are players with a heavy load of games at the moment,” he said. “We have to remember these lads are still physically growing. We have to be really careful how we handle them. They’ll be really exciting players for England in the future.”

Still, both would probably have loved to see some bonus minutes against Andorra, and could have been useful from the bench if Hungary prove to be a little more tricky than they were in Budapest.

Winner: Aaron Ramsdale

Many scoffed at Arsenal shelling out £24m on Aaron Ramsdale in the summer when they already had Bernd Leno. But my word has he responded in style. In four appearances across all competitions, the former Bournemouth and Sheffield United shot-stopper has three clean sheets and just one goal conceded. In the Premier League, he’s averaged 2.3 saves and 1.67 crosses caught per 90 minutes, the latter places him third among goalkeepers in the English top flight.

“Aaron (Ramsdale) was with us all summer so we had an opportunity to work with him and understand his strengths,” Southgate said of this particular decision. “The move to a club with high expectation and style of play of building from the back is an important factor for us. He has adapted well to that move.”

At 23, Ramsdale might well be the future of English goalkeeping for the next decade and more if he can quickly usurp Jordan Pickford. Chances are he’ll get a cap against Andorra, even if that could be a quiet night at the office.

Loser: Nick Pope

Dean Henderson is struggling like hell to overhaul David de Gea at Manchester United, so seeing who backs up Pickford in this squad was always going to be interesting. Ramsdale’s inclusion makes a lot of sense. Few could argue with it. But Nick Pope might just feel a little aggrieved to miss out behind Sam Johnstone, who is plying his trade in the Championship this season.

Pope is yet to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League this season and has conceded 11 goals. But he’s yet to actually make an error himself and has made the sixth-highest number of saves (18) in the division so far. In fact, only Tim Krul (15), Illan Meslier and Hugo Lloris (both 18) have made more saves from shots inside the box than Pope (14).

“I was surprised but only in the sense that he is a top, top ‘keeper for me,” Burnley manager Sean Dyche said of Southgate’s decision to leave out his goalkeeper, adding: “But Gareth will have his views on the whys and wherefores, and he has left other people out in the past who everyone has been surprised at, probably put people in who people have been surprised at, and that is his prerogative but Popey in my mind is an absolutely top, top ‘keeper.”

In response, Southgate said he was cautious of aggravating a knee injury Pope was struggling with earlier this year and that, combined with Ramsdale’s form, was a deciding factor.

Winner: Phil Foden

Phil Foden captured the nation’s attention with his ‘skin-fade Gazza’ haircut for the Euros. However, a couple of spectacular near-misses aside, it’s important to remember he struggled to get going against Croatia and Scotland before sitting most of the rest of the tournament out with injury.

Foden is slowly battling his way back into the Man City side now after getting fit but even so, a relative lack of minutes and output this season means he can count himself a little lucky to make this squad.

That said, when fully fit, it’s hard to see Pep Guardiola dropping Foden and if that becomes the case, the same will apply to Southgate and England. So getting him back among the Three Lions for these two games might be just what he needs.

Loser: Ben White

Ben White had a pretty wretched debut for Arsenal in their 2-0 defeat to Brentford but since then, he’s been steadily improving. In wins over Burnley and Tottenham, he was excellent. In fact, he tops out among Arsenal players in the Premier League for interceptions (8) and is second for clearances (13) and aerial duels won (10) despite playing just four games so far.

So, with Harry Maguire injured, White can consider himself extremely unlucky not to make this latest England squad, even if Tomori is fully deserving of his spot. Perhaps there’s a conversation to be had about who is best between White, Tyrone Mings, Conor Coady and another centre-back we’ll get to in a moment.

But Southgate has explained just how close White came to sneaking into this selection, so he’s at least in the manager’s thoughts.

“He performed well against Tottenham, is still settling into a new club but the performance showed good signs and he is a player we are monitoring closely,” he said. “He would have been very close to this squad as well.”

Winner: Ollie Watkins

With Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Patrick Bamford both injured, there was plenty of intrigue surrounding who would be called in as Harry Kane’s back-up. Danny Ings has two goals and two assists so far and certainly poses a decent argument, while Ivan Toney seems to be adjusting perfectly to life in the Premier League. Even the aforementioned Greenwood could have played through the middle.

In the end, Southgate went with Ollie Watkins, a surprising decision considering he’s yet to get off the mark in the Premier League this season. But then again, the Villa striker has worn England colours as recently as June and so is familiar with the set-up.

Should he get minutes (most likely against Andorra), Watkins needs to use this time to get among the goals to boost his confidence and, therefore, chances of future call-ups when Calvert-Lewin and Bamford are fit.

Loser: Ezri Konsa

That other centre-back is Ezri Konsa and there are plenty of Villa fans who think he is the better of their two starting English centre-bacs over Mings.

Konsa has seen more Premier League minutes (539) than any other Aston Villa player so far this season and is first among his teammates for clearances (23) and aerial duels won (20), while he’s second for recoveries (48).

Once again, there are swathes of Villa supporters asking just what Konsa has to do to catch Southgate’s eye. Granted, the centre-back pool is pretty deep, but Konsa has been in this sort of excellent form for well over 12 months now. Surely, his chance must come soon.

The silver lining is, at 23, time is well on his side. He should take heart in Tomori battling his way back on considering how his first and only senior England cap came almost two years ago.