Gareth Southgate will not be swayed by off-field problems when he names his first England team since the World Cup, Sky Sports News has learned, in what could be a big boost for Brentford striker Ivan Toney.
Whether or not to include Toney for the start of Euro Qualifiers is the toughest decision Southgate will have to make before naming his first England team since the World Cup on Thursday.
The fact that England’s first two games in Euro qualifiers are by far the most difficult (away to Italy on March 23 and then at home to Ukraine three days later) may mean that some players are not proven, they are certainly in Southgate’s thoughts, however he could miss this camp.
England have not won a game in Italy since 1961.
Ivan Toney and the strikers
Southgate was at Goodison Park on Saturday to watch Brentford’s 1-0 defeat by Everton, and Thomas Frank has said that, in his current form, Toney is the natural understudy to Harry Kane and deserves his place on footballing merits.
“If you look at the performances,” said the Brentford boss, “I don’t think you can top it.”
He has scored eight times in his last 11 games, with Kane being the only English striker ahead of Toney’s 16 goals so far this season.
However, Toney has admitted to many of the 262 charges the FA has brought against him for alleged breaches of football’s strict rules of the game, charges that could mean a potential six-month ban from football.
It is in these difficult circumstances that Southgate has to make its selection decision.
When Toney was left out of the squad for Qatar in November, Southgate insisted he had nothing to do with the FA charges against him.
But Toney, who has spoken out of his anger that the confidential matter is in the public domain, has since pleaded guilty to several of the charges.
If Toney misses out, Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins could benefit as he is currently the most prolific English striker in the Premier League. He can’t do enough to get Southgate’s attention, having scored six goals in his last seven games.
Watkins has not added to his seven England caps since scoring against the Ivory Coast in a friendly at Wembley 12 months ago.
Kyle Walker and the sides
Discipline off the pitch will also be on Southgate’s mind as he considers whether or not to include England stalwart Kyle Walker in his latest squad.
Walker is the subject of a police investigation into allegations that he exposed himself in a bar in Wilmslow.
Pep Guardiola has insisted that it is a private matter and that it should not affect his football.
Walker has played just four minutes for Manchester City since a national newspaper reported on the incident.
Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell is pushing hard to call the left-back back, along with Manchester United’s Luke Shaw. Chilwell has not played for England since a 10-0 thrashing of San Marino in November 2021, due to a combination of injury and poor form.
However, he appears to be back in his prime and has made eight Premier League and Champions League appearances since the start of last month, with an assist and a goal in his last two games.
Ben White’s way to lead Arsenal would apparently make him a shoe for this England team. He left camp in Qatar halfway through the World Cup, with little public explanation, and his Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says he is available again.
Shaw, Kieran Trippier, the recovering Reece James and Trent Alexander-Arnold are likely to be the other full-backs included in the team.
James Maddison and the extremes
After all the public clamor for James Maddison to be included in the England squad for the World Cup in Qatar, injury prevented him from playing for a single minute.
However, I am told that Southgate and the rest of the England players were genuinely impressed by his attitude and personality at camp, despite his obvious frustration. His continued good form in a struggling Leicester side should see him retain his international place.
It will be fascinating to see if Jadon Sancho is remembered, who, after missing 20 games, has looked much smarter and has scored two goals in eight games since returning to the Manchester United squad.
Brighton winger Solly March is in the best shape of his life, and while there is clamor for him to receive his first call-up (he has never been involved with any England team, in any age group), the sheer number of Southgate’s options in wide attacking positions mean he will likely miss out.
Jordan Henderson and the midfielders
Jordan Henderson missed Liverpool’s Champions League second leg with Real Madrid due to illness. But he was one of England’s best players in Qatar, connecting brilliantly with Jude Bellingham, so he’ll surely be included, if he’s healthy.
Southgate will have a tough decision to make over Kalvin Phillips, who was England’s player of the year last season but has played just 55 minutes of football for Manchester City since Christmas. That lack of playing time means it would be hard to justify including him at the moment, but it’s perhaps just as hard for the England manager to leave him out, such has been his traditional importance to this England team.
The ever-reliable James Ward-Prowse is back in excellent form and expects to be retired. He missed the World Cup but has scored six goals and had an assist since the restart.
It is clear that 18-year-old Manchester City midfielder Rico Lewis is on Southgate’s radar, but he may be better suited for an Under-21 call-up, in the first instance.
Harry Maguire and the Defenders
Harry Maguire, despite not being able to take a kick at Manchester United, will be controversially included by Southgate again.
Only one Premier League game has started since January 3.
But his excellent performances in Qatar, despite the overwhelming lack of playing time for his club at the time, have shown Southgate that they can still rely on him for his country, even if he is having a very difficult time at Old Trafford. I’d be surprised if he didn’t start for England at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona in Naples next week.
Brighton’s Lewis Dunk will be very disappointed if he is left out again. Only Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle have conceded less xG than Brighton this season, and Dunk has been hailed by manager Roberto De Zerbi as “one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League”.
Dunk recorded his 400th appearance for the club earlier this month, but he has been consistently overlooked by England since his lone appearance in 2018.