We haven’t even played a single minute of international football and yet, Gareth Southgate’s players are already dropping like flies. We’ve so far seen the likes of Luke Shaw, Fabian Delph, John Stones and Loftus-Cheek all pull out through injury and the way things are going, there could be more to come. Injuries are always going to be considered as a negative, something that weakens the side. On most ocassions that is the case, but when it comes to the international side it gives promising players an opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Delph, Stones and Loftus-Cheek have all struggled for game time this season so, if anyone is going to get injured, they probably aren’t the most damaging players to depart. Southgate has opted to only replace two of the injured players clearly believing he still has more than enough cover in each position going into these two Euro 2020 Qualifiers.
The first player to get a late call-up was James Ward-Prowse. He has starred for Southampton for much of this season hitting a decent run of goals in recent times. Ward-Prowse has always been a promising young talent and many people might have thought he’d break into the England senior team much earlier than at the age of 24. Despite being quite a consistent starter for Southampton for a number of years now, Ward-Prowse has never quite done enough to warrant a selection. A lack of goals in his game has probably been his biggest downfall but now that he’s beginning to change that, this reward is exactly what he deserves. It isn’t just in the goalscoring department that he’s improved though. If he wasn’t already before, Ward-Prowse is definitely now a gifted and capable player on the ball. We’ve seen the midfielder carry possession from fairly deep up to his opponents’ box. He seems to have grown in stature as well. He was the sort of player you look at and think he’s somewhat lightweight, but he has some physicality in his game too. He knows how to use his body and head, capable of shifting past defenders and keeping his cool when others don’t. We saw him toy with Crystal Palace’s Zaha to the point that the winger earned himself a stupid red card. A player that is both capable physically, technically and can use his brain in the centre of the park could be exactly what England have been missing. Ward-Prowse would also be an almost direct replacement for Loftus-Cheek making him a perfect fit to slot into the squad for these Qualifiers.
The second player to receive a call-up following injuries to current members was Chelsea’s Hudson-Odoi. They young winger has only truly come onto the scene this season spending his earlier years as part of Chelsea’s youth setup. Like Ward-Prowse, Hudson-Odoi is very capable on the ball. He’s quick and loves to beat his man down the line and get crosses into the box. He’s so good at this, in fact, that he’s attracted the attention of German giants Bayern Munich; we all remember the transfer saga which occured in January, Bayern making a number of offers, all of which were rejected by Hudson-Odoi’s current club. However, considering Chelsea were so desperate to keep the youngster, he hasn’t got anywhere near the amount of game time he should be getting. He hasn’t made a single start for Chelsea in the Premier League so you can see why he was eager to make the move to Germany. Former City man Jadon Sancho wasn’t in the picture at all under Guardiola but has become one of the most promising young talents in world football since making the move to Borussia Dortmund. He’s now been picked for the England senior team a few times and will most likely continue to do so for the majority of his career. You can’t blame Hudson-Odoi for being tempted to somewhat replicate this. In some ways, Hudson-Odoi would be playing a very similar role for England as to what is asked of him when he does get to play for Chelsea. Chelsea loanee Gonzalo Higuain possesses a number of similarities to England’s Harry Kane. Neither are overly quick but both make intelligent runs and cleverly pick up pockets of space in the box. Higuain seems to be calling out for a player who is willing to beat defenders and supply balls for him to clincally finish, as he so often does. Perhaps an impressive performance for England could be exactly what’s needed to send a message to the stubborn Sarri. Hudson-Odoi has to start more regularly.
In order to truly determine whether Southgate has made the right choices in the players he’s chosen to add to the squad following a number of injuries, we should have a look at a couple of the other candidates. One of those has to be Crystal Palace right back Wan-Bissaka. This young man would have been virtually unknown to most football fans prior to making the step up into their first team, but the England manager and fans will be thankful that he did. Statistically, Wan-Bissaka has been one of the best defenders in the world this season. Yes, you could say that statistics don’t tell us everything. Palace are a side who spend a lot of time on the back foot so you could argue that Wan-Bissaka has to do more defending than most, making more tackles, interceptions and clearances. This may well be the case but accoring to whoscored.com, Wan-Bissaka makes the most tackles per game out of any defender in the entire world. Even if you are playing for a side who are regularly under pressure, that’s still some achievement. He is clearly an excellent defender so when defintiely two, arguably three of the injured players are defenders, it’s hard to see why Southgate wouldn’t give Wan-Bissaka a call-up even if he wasn’t going to make an appearance. You can’t really argue with Ward-Prowse’s inclusion but if you aren’t like me and don’t think Wan-Bissaka deserved a call-up more than Hudson-Odoi then there’s still no harm in taking him just for the experience. Four players have been injured and only two are replacing them despite there being no reason why all of them couldn’t have gone.
The same can be said for Wolves’ Conor Coady. In my opinion, the former Liverpool man is extremely unlucky to not be in the squad even before any injuries. Wolves have blown everyone away this season. It’s not uncommon for a new side to get promoted and look good going forward, even in a higher division, but it’s not often you see a newly promoted side look outstanding both attacking and defending. Wolves have made things very difficult for the top teams getting results against the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea. They were dominant against United in their most recent fixture and when you take into account how much more dangerous United have been in attack since Solskjaer was appointed, that is really something. Even without scoring, United caused Arsenal more than a few problems in the game before, but there was none of that against Wolves, other than a late consolation goal that had no impact on the outccome at all. Conor Coady’s role in this solidity has been absolutely crucial and I, for one, am baffled as to how he hasn’t been picked for England. He has outperformed the likes of Tarkowski by far this season; this and now the fact that Stones is injured must make Coady an obvious choice for a call-up. Again, there’s enough space in the squad to take all 4 players mentioned without having to choose one player over another. Coady and Wan-Bissaka are almost guaranteed to be in the squad at some point so surely it makes sense to get them in sooner rather than later even if they don’t feature in these two matches.
It’s hard to be critical of Southgate. He hasn’t been at the reigns for overly long but he has done wonders for this England squad in that time. The World Cup was his first major tournament and to be reaching the Semi-finals already, is a great achievement. It points to a very promising future for this side which could end the long wait for another international trophy. The choices he has made with the latest squad are in no way terrible, it just seems that there were better options. Hudson-Odoi is a huge talent and will undoubtedly play a huge part for England at some point but I don’t think he should have been picked over Wan-Bissaka or Conor Coady, especially when he isn’t directly replacing an injured player. Of course, everyone will have their own views about who deserves it more or who England are in greater need of. However, one thing that isn’t up for debate is that Southgate has the spots available in the squad to take all 4 players; it doesn’t seem logical that he wouldn’t do that.