The September internationals must surely be the trickiest for any international manager when it comes to selecting their squad. This year Gareth Southgate had just 3 rounds of Premier League fixtures to base his selection on, and making any judgements regarding form on so few games would appear rather hasty. Previous seasons therefore have a more significant weighting on selection than they would later in the season, and therefore unsurprising that other than enforced changes to the injured trio John Stones, Dele Alli and Fabian Delph (albeit the latter pair did both feature this weekend), the squad is largely the same as the squad selected for the Nations League Finals.
In fact, there are just 3 players who have seemingly been dropped from the squad. Jack Butland has lost his place following a somewhat tumultous start to the season, with his expected Summer move back to the Premier League not materialising and finding himself dropped from a Stoke City side currently bottom in the Championship. Butland is replaced by Nick Pope, who has regained his starting role at Burnley following the departure of Tom Heaton. Eric Dier, an unused substitute in each of Tottenham’s first 3 Premier League fixtures, also makes way for his club teammate Harry Winks, who following an injury-hit end to the 2018-19 season has taken Dier’s place in the Spurs side this season.
The most interesting selection is at right back. Arguably England’s strongest position currently, Southgate has chosen to select 3 right backs in his latest squad, despite the additional cover for that position provided by Joe Gomez. Trent Alexander-Arnold retains his place, whilst Kieran Trippier and Aaron Wan-Bissaka both come into the squad at the expense of Kyle Walker. Wan-Bissaka’s inclusion is easier to explain than Trippier’s, given that he enjoyed an excellent campaign last season and was lauded by numerous pundits as the best right back in terms of defensive play in the Premier League. Having made more interceptions and more tackles than any other defender last season, there is certainly plenty of statistical support for this claim. With Alexander-Arnold excelling with his attacking play, making more crosses and providing more assists than any other right back in the Premier League last season, including both in his squad gives Southgate the option to tweak his side according to the strength of opposition or the state of the game without impacting on the overall balance or shape of the team.
However, if there was to be a third right back in the squad, Walker would have been the more obvious choice. Whilst neither Walker nor Trippier reached the heights of their form from the 2017-18 season last campaign, Walker’s form was arguably more assured and it was the Manchester City man who got the nod for the Nations League Finals. He has been an almost ever present for City so far this season (he was substituted in the 90th minute against Bournemouth), a season which started 2 weeks earlier than Trippier’s season if you include the Community Shield. Whilst Trippier did impress on his Athletico Madrid debut, providing an assist, his selection ahead of Walker does not feel like a purely footballing decision. Instead, it feels like a gesture from Southgate to Trippier, reassuring him that whilst he has departed the Premier League, that will not count against him in terms of selection.
Another of Southgate’s additions to the squad, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, has a similar feel. Having missed out on the 2018 World Cup and almost the entirety of last season through injury with just 2 substitute appearances in the league, he has enjoyed a full pre-season, started against his former club Southampton and played the final 18 minutes against his other former club, Arsenal. Whilst he has not provided compelling evidence that he is back to his best form, central midfield is another area where Southgate has expanded his squad compared following the 23 player limit for the Nations League Finals, and has used that opportunity to welcome Oxlade-Chamberlain back to the squad.
Tyrone Mings’ selection ahead of the likes of James Tarkowski and Lewis Dunk is an intriguing choice, given that the latter duo have played plenty of Premier League football over the past few seasons, whilst a series of injuries restricted to Mings to just 17 Premier League appearances across 4 seasons for Bournemouth prior to his move to Aston Villa, with whom he played for on loan last season. Never a part of England’s youth set up, Southgate has never had the chance to work with him before, and perhaps that is the reason why he has been selected over seemingly more obvious choices.
Elsewhere, the exciting midfield duo of James Maddison and Mason Mount replace the injured duo of Alli and Delph, and continue Southgate’s selection policy of looking to promote players who have represented the Under 21’s and other England age group teams. Therefore if you were to speculate as to the players who might earn a call up later in the season, the current Under 21 squad would be a good place to look. The Norwich City trio of Max Aarons, Ben Godfrey and Todd Cantwell are likely to clock up the most Premier League minutes this season, though arguably the most talented of the trio, Aarons, is unfortunate to be competing for the right back slot. Elsewhere the ‘Big 6’ are represented by Phil Foden, Joe Willock, Oliver Skipp, Mason Greenwood and Reiss Nelson. The challenge for each will be playing enough minutes to press their case, with Willock currently looking the most likely to receive an extended run in the first team.
The most intriguing name in the Under 21 squad though is surely Burnley’s Dwight McNeil. The timing of Wan-Bissaka’s call up has done nothing to dispel the theory that players at higher profile or more ‘fashionable’ clubs are more likely to be selected for the senior team, and arguably there is no less fashionable club in the Premier League right now than Burnley. With Sean Dyche valuing consistency of selection very highly, the Burnley team can be a difficult one to break into, illustrated by the fact that the club’s two most expensive signings in Summer 2018, Ben Gibson and Matej Vydra, played just 68 and 378 minutes respectively in the Premier League last season. McNeil however managed 1711 minutes, despite only turning 19 in November, and has started all four games so far this season. Having established himself in the team, McNeil is likely to have plenty of opportunities to impress this season if he stays fit.
In terms of where he might fit into the England squad, a comparison with Jesse Lingard makes for interesting reading. Lingard made more appearances than McNeil last season with 27 to 21, with both players scoring 3 goals from open play. McNeil provided 5 assists compared to Lingard’s 3, and bettered the United man on every individual defensive statistic. If played in a team with greater control of possession and more variety in their attacking options, it would be reasonable to expect McNeil’s numbers to get even better. The question though is whether he will get that chance internationally whilst playing at Burnley, or like Wan-Bissaka, will he need to move before that opportunity comes?
Fantasy Premier League Tip – Riyad Mahrez
Mahrez may have struggled at times last season, but has started the season in good form. Currently he has the highest Plus Minus ranking per 90 minutes of any player to have played more than 100 minutes, and has provided 2 assists. With a regular starting role looking likely following Leroy Sane’s injury, for a man capable of chipping in with plenty of goals, his current price of £8.5 million looks like a bargain.