Gareth Southgate’s bold determination to promote youth will mean Tammy Abraham, Jordan Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek making their senior debuts against Germany, and three under-21 forwards are likely to be drafted into the set-up for next week’s friendly with Brazil as the England manager resists the temptation to recall the old guard.
Demarai Gray, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Dominic Solanke are set to join a senior squad already denied six of the manager’s original selections by injury after Friday’s European Under-21 Championship qualifier in Ukraine. Southgate prefers to blood them rather than turn to players such as Daniel Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jermain Defoe.
Danny Drinkwater, with whom the manager spoke this week after England’s midfield options were reduced, declined a call-up, citing a lack of match fitness.
The Chelsea midfielder has played only 22 minutes as a substitute in the Premier League since his £35m summer move from Leicester City; he arrived hampered by a calf injury, which he aggravated in a late appearance off the bench in Sunday’s victory over Manchester United. Drinkwater was unable to complete the post-match warm-down on the pitch at Stamford Bridge and has been limited to light training in the period since, meaning he has been injured for, or withdrawn from, all of Southgate’s squads.
“He felt he wasn’t ready yet to play at this level,” said the manager. “You’ve got to be able to cover the ground, you’ve got to feel you are in peak physical condition. If Danny didn’t feel he was ready for that, I can understand. He’s not been fit for the last three camps. You can’t do anything about that.
“I’d say there are quite a few places in the squad [for the World Cup] still up for grabs. There are players who have played pretty consistently for us and made big contributions, but then there are a group who have supported that. Over the next couple of games some of those guys will get opportunities. Then there are the younger ones coming through who are also going to push that.”
Abraham, like Loftus-Cheek a product of Chelsea’s academy, has scored four top-flight goals in 10 Premier League starts on loan at Swansea having impressed last year in the Championship at Bristol City. The 20-year-old has resisted overtures to represent Nigeria and will partner Jamie Vardy after more experienced players were overlooked for Southgate’s squad despite the withdrawals.
“For Defoe and Sturridge to come in and impress us in these games, that really is a big jump given the minimal amount of playing time they have had,” said the manager. “It doesn’t mean either of them are ruled out going forward.
“They are both top goalscorers. But we’ve got some exciting young strikers playing with the under-21s – Solanke, Calvert-Lewin and Gray – and if we think we need cover we might look to call those players up [for the Brazil match].”
Gary Cahill is still struggling with a back injury and will be considered only for Tuesday. So, in the absence of Harry Kane and with Joe Hart on the bench, Eric Dier will captain the side against Germany, with Southgate praising his “maturity and intelligence”. The manager still considers Hart his first-choice goalkeeper but will give Pickford, Everton’s £30m signing from Sunderland, a first cap after Jack Butland broke a finger in training and returned to Stoke.
Loftus-Cheek, who boasts 12 Premier League starts of which six have come on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea this season, will partner Dier in central midfield.
Southgate has been in contact with Manchester United, after suggesting last week that Chris Smalling might not be up to the required standard on the ball, and intends to speak with Jack Wilshere after the international window to outline what the Arsenal midfielder, a fringe player at the Emirates, needs to do to break back into the squad.
Wilshere’s game-time has largely been spent as a No10 over recent times, while Southgate’s 3-4-3 and its variants means the midfielder has to feature more often in a deeper role if he is to earn a recall.
“I have a lot of respect for him as a player, and when he was with the squad last year I really liked his mentality and personality,” said Southgate. “I don’t think Jack is a No10. I think he is a deeper player but he is not playing deeper. But I want to be clear: I really like Jack Wilshere as a player, I think he is a talent and I really respect him as an individual.”
Germany, too, intend to experiment in the game at Wembley, which should attract a near-capacity crowd, as Joachim Löw prepares to defend the World Cup in Russia. The RB Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg will gain a first cap but Toni Kroos could be omitted because of a stomach bug.
“We want to play well but I want to experiment a bit,” said Löw. “We still have a few games to prepare for the World Cup. It’s a bit of a test phase still, this year. With the tournament in mind, I want to see not only those players who play regularly.”
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