Gareth Southgate’s squad selection often comes under intense scrutiny.
When a player breaks into the England side, it can take a while before they exit. Call it what you will – loyalty, favouritism – it’s been a feature of the 53-year-old’s reign.
Most recently, Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips have been the main beneficiaries.
However, not all of Southgate’s so-called ‘favourites’ remain in his good books forever. There is a selection of players who, once considered vital to the team, have lost their way on the international stage.
There is only one more international break before the next major tournament. Any uncapped players may have their work cut out if they hope to be there.
But is there any way back for the previous group of regulars?
But he’s not just an ordinary flash-in-the-pan. The winger has proven himself at the top level over many years. On top of that, he has performed brilliantly for England in the past, most notably at Euro 2020.
These are traits that usually earn a player some credit in the bank with Southgate. By all accounts, he ought to be in the squad.
Competition on the wings is very high in the Three Lions camp. Sterling is competing for places with the likes of Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Jarrod Bowen. And, in a 23-man squad, the chances are one of them will be left at home.
The former Liverpool attacker has certain traits which could play to his advantage. He can play on both sides, and he’s already fully integrated into the England set-up. This will give him the upper hand over others in the event of injuries.
Should everyone remain fit and available, however, he will find it a lot more difficult. Barring a super season, he may be out of luck.
The case of Mason Mount is a strange one. There was a time when he was labelled as Southgate’s golden boy – he was just as much of a ‘favourite’ as Henderson or Harry Maguire.
He has now been absent for almost a year. Some of this is down to injury, but he has been available for the last two breaks and has been snubbed on both occasions.
Even when Jude Bellingham and James Maddison withdrew from the latest squad, Cole Palmer was selected in his place.
The emergence of Bellingham has taken its toll on the playmaker. During the World Cup, the youngster began playing in a more advanced position, with Mount dropping to the bench. Since then, he has been arguably England’s best player.
It seems as if that ‘number ten’ role might be out of reach for Mount – England are already set there, and he won’t dislodge Bruno Fernandes from the position at Manchester United. Perhaps his best chance lies elsewhere on the pitch.
Thankfully for the Chelsea academy graduate, a deeper role could be open. One of the reasons why Phillips and Henderson often get selected is because there aren’t many top-class options in that area to go alongside Declan Rice.
Mount has the tools to play as a deep-lying playmaker type – he’s good on the ball, creative, and energetic. On the other hand, his lack of defensive capabilities could cause some problems, especially against the better opponents.
James Ward-Prowse is a bit different to the two previous players mentioned. He has been in and out of the England squad for over six years, earning 11 caps since his debut in March 2017. However, he has been ignored for all three major tournaments in that timeframe.
With that spot next to Rice looking so open, many have called for the 29-year-old to be given another go. He has two goals and nine assists since joining West Ham United in the summer, while Phillips sits on Manchester City’s bench and Henderson edges closer to retirement in Saudi Arabia.
For Ward-Prowse, it is possibly an issue of profile. Everyone knows about his deadly set pieces, and he is also a good passer. But these qualities are already present in the England squad in the form of James Maddison, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Kieran Trippier.
Southgate appears to favour runners in central midfield – players who will win the ball back quickly and help play the game in the opponent’s half.
In this regard, Phillips and Henderson are better options. Unless the manager changes his system, Ward-Prowse could struggle to secure himself a seat on the plane.
Nick Pope falls into a similar category to Ward-Prowse. As a pure shot-stopper, there is little doubting that he is at least one of England’s top three goalkeepers. Meanwhile, his sweeping and handling from crosses are also impressive.
But he has one key deficiency to his game that may ultimately cost him – he often looks awkward with the ball at his feet. This has been a glaring issue every time he has featured for the one-time World Cup winners.
Like almost every top side nowadays, England want to play out from the back. Unfortunately, Pope doesn’t fit this role and will likely miss out because of it.
On paper, Ben White should be an ideal candidate for the Euro 2024 squad. He is a very capable defender who can play as a centre-back, a right-back, or even as a defensive midfielder if needed. It was these credentials that earned him a place in the last two tournament squads.
But it’s seemingly not an issue of ability with the former Leeds United loanee. He was selected for the World Cup last year but exited the camp mid-tournament citing personal reasons.
Shortly afterwards, rumours of a fall-out with the coaching staff emerged in the press. His absence from the last five squads gives credence to these reports.
It probably doesn’t matter how well White plays for Arsenal this season. Unless he can patch things up with the men in charge, he will be left at home.
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