Nketiah and Watkins to get an England chance
Taking chances is the name of the game for strikers – one of Ollie Watkins and Eddie Nketiah will feel that extra hard on Friday night.
In a rare opportunity for someone not called Harry Kane, one of the two forwards will get the chance to lead the line for England in Friday night’s friendly with Australia.
Both players have been called up because they have a little bit of Kane about them. Watkins creates more than he scores, while Nketiah’s expert skills are shown by scoring twice from just three shots on target.
While the Arsenal and Aston Villa forwards have their specific strengths, Kane has both of them combined and neither Nketiah or Watkins can realistically oust the Bayern Munich striker from the striker role.
But the simple dilemma of what would happen to England if Kane was to pick up an injury will always hover over Gareth Southgate.
It is why Friday’s friendly with Australia is important – to discover who is the next best option available to the England manager. With Ivan Toney and Callum Wilson also options for Southgate in the New Year, it’s a tricky choice.
Bowen’s big chance as Sterling overlooked again
Raheem Sterling must wonder what he must do to get back into Gareth Southgate’s good books. With Bukayo Saka ridiculously called up despite clearly being unavailable, England have opted not to replace the Arsenal forward.
Days after Southgate snubbed him for this week’s internationals, Sterling took his frustrations out on his old Manchester City team-mate Vincent Kompany and Burnley, having a hand in all four Chelsea goals, scoring one, during a 4-1 come-from-behind win.
Sterling has not played for England since last year’s World Cup, and although fitness accounted for his absence in March and he asked not to play in June while he focused on getting fully back up to speed, Southgate has now chosen to leave him out of the last two squads.
As is the way in football, one man’s loss is another man’s gain – and while Saka’s starting berth is virtually guaranteed barring injury, West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen has the chance to stake another claim as his understudy.
Like Sterling, Bowen was overlooked for the September internationals – but his current form made him hard to ignore.
His manager David Moyes said last month following his fifth goal of the season against Sheffield United: “I’m not going to pick the England team, but to play for England you have to be able to score in big games. Jarrod’s doing great for us.”
Fresh from signing a new seven-year contract at the Hammers until summer 2030, Bowen – who earned four caps last year – must seize his opportunity.
Will Colwill solve England’s left-back conundrum?
“We need to find a little bit out about one or two players because the depth in that position in the league is not strong,” said England boss Gareth Southgate when asked about his left-back options last week.
With Manchester United’s Luke Shaw having been ruled out of action since August 19, Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell would be the natural candidate to fill in on the left-hand side, yet a hamstring injury has left him sidelined until December.
Spare a thought for Rico Henry, one of the key cogs in Thomas Frank’s Brentford team, who might finally have received the call-up many have tipped him for, as a result of the duo’s misfortune, had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury himself.
Of the players in the squad for the upcoming internationals and Australia and Italy, Kieran Trippier is the only one to have slotted in on the left on several occasions, but it is, in fact, Chelsea’s Levi Colwill who is looking the most likely to fill the vacant spot.
The 20-year-old is yet to make his senior England debut, but has been deputising at left-back for the Blues in the absence of… you’ve guessed it: Ben Chilwell. Fate is a funny old thing.
Before this season, Colwill had made a cameo in that position in the second Premier League game of his loan move to Brighton last year and twice on loan at Huddersfield in 2021/22. Now he could be about to do it on the world stage.
“We really like Levi,” Southgate added in his press conference. “He had a fantastic season last season with Brighton, an excellent Euros with our U21s, he’s adapting well to life back at Chelsea and he’s got a real maturity about his game. We’re hopeful for his future.”
He will be hoping that in Colwill he finds out that little bit about his alternative options.
Will Trent impress in midfield again?
On England’s official website, Trent Alexander-Arnold is listed as a midfielder. That pretty much says everything you need to know in terms of how Gareth Southgate now views the 25-year-old.
Having long been the most creative defender in the country, Alexander-Arnold has had his position reimagined at Liverpool since April when he was thrust into a new hybrid role. And that change has followed him to international level too.
A peripheral figure for much of Southgate’s tenure, Alexander-Arnold attracted widespread praise for his midfield performances for England in June. A stunning goal in a 4-0 win over Malta was followed by a superb assist in a 7-0 thrashing of North Macedonia three days later.
“He showed exactly what we thought he could be capable of,” Southgate said this summer, but the question now is whether the England boss sees Alexander-Arnold as a mainstay in the centre of the pitch.
Alexander-Arnold missed England’s September fixtures through injury, but he’s immediately returned to the fold for this month’s matches. Back-to-back midfield starts against Australia and Italy would go a long way to clarifying his status in this England team.
Does Southgate have a problem with playing time?
Gareth Southgate is not taking many risks with his England selections. For a manager approaching a tournament some expect to be his last with England that perhaps comes as no surprise.
He’s landed on a few trusted figures and will stick by them no matter what, irrespective of their involvement at club level. Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips are the two to stick out.
Maguire started his first league game of the season for Manchester United against Brentford last Saturday.
Phillips, meanwhile, has only started twice for Manchester City in his two seasons there. Pep Guardiola used Bernardo Silva, an attacking midfielder, and Rico Lewis, an 18-year-old full-back, to cover the suspended Rodri against Arsenal ahead of Phillips.
But Southgate trusts in these players because they have done it for him on the biggest stage. Maguire at the last three major tournaments and Phillips at the Euros. None of the other contenders have yet convinced Southgate that they can cope with such pressures.
James Ward-Prowse is an obvious candidate to replace Phillips. He was overlooked again for England despite his six assists for new club West Ham this season. Had Ward-Prowse moved to a top-six club, his fortunes may have been different.
Southgate, it seems, wants players with big-game experience. The Euros in Germany this summer could be his endgame, his last chance to win a major tournament. He knows handling the big occasion will be key.
But is he overlooking match sharpness? Should Declan Rice get injured, would it be fair to thrust Phillips into a make-or-break game at the Euros? These are the small margins that could define Southgate’s legacy.