There’s a real feel-good factor about the English national team at the moment. Off the back of reaching a World Cup semi-final, the nation’s first since Italia ‘90, in Russia in the summer, Gareth Southgate’s young and exciting squad will now be heading to the 2019 UEFA Nation’s League Finals having topped a group containing Spain and Croatia.
Despite this success, the one criticism often thrown at England is that there is a lack of depth and that any Englishman playing regularly in the Premier League is an automatic selection. Well, off the back of the Three Lions’ recent success, we wanted to examine whether that is really the case.
It’s been over a decade since England’s B team last played a fixture, meaning many younger viewers may not even know about the second strings existence. Today though, we’re going to pretend the B team is making a comeback, and take a look at what their squad and starting XI might look like, starting with the latter.
Here is our potential England ‘B’ Team squad & starting XI:
GK – Joe Hart
Before we start, it’s probably worth noting how we decided which players were eligible for our imaginary England second string. Basically, we drew up a 23-man squad of players who we felt would make Gareth Southgate’s first team squad if everyone was fit and the World Cup was starting in a months time.
That 23 man squad read as follows: Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Alex McCarthy, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Joe Gomez, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Luke Shaw, Michael Keane, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Ross Barkley, Jesse Lingard, Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Callum Wilson.
Therefore, any Englishman not in that 23 man squad could be considered for our ‘B’ team squad, with the exception of those players who have outright stated that they have retired from international football, such as Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy and James Milner.
Okay, now back to our XI. Between the sticks, we’ve gone for former England number one Joe Hart. The most capped player in this squad, by far, Hart has won 75 caps for the Three Lions, but he was left out of Gareth Southgate’s squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, following a couple of underwhelming loan moves to Torino and West Ham.
The 31-year-old, who should really be in his prime years right now, does seem to have settled down since a summer move to Burnley though. He’s currently keeping Tom Heaton out of the Clarets starting XI, who also makes our ‘B’ team squad, and the record four-time Premier League Golden Glove winning ‘keeper recently stated his intentions to break back into Gareth Southgate’s England setup.
RB – Trent Alexander-Arnold
Possibly the most contentious omission from our guess at what would be Gareth Southgate’s dream 23-man squad right now, Trent Alexander-Arnold just happens to occupy a highly-competitive position in the England squad. Kyle Walker’s form at Man City means he has to be one of the first names on the teamsheet, whilst Kieran Trippier was probably the nation’s outstanding performer at the 2018 World Cup.
That leaves Alexander-Arnold available for our ‘B’ team, and with that in mind, the 20-year-old Liverpool regular is an automatic choice, restricting his Anfield teammate Nathaniel Clyne to a spot on the bench.
CB – Lewis Dunk
Handed his England debut in Gareth Southgate’s most recent squad, Lewis Dunk has been an absolute rock for his hometown club of Brighton and Hove Albion for the best part of a decade. Strong in the tackle and a real force in the air, Dunk is an integral part of Brighton’s very solid backline. We don’t think he makes it into Gareth Southgate’s 23 if everyone is fit and available for selection, but he beats the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to our ‘B’ team starting XI.
CB – James Tarkowski
Partnering Lewis Dunk at the heart of our England second XI defence is Burnley star James Tarkowski. Named as a standby for England’s most recent World Cup squad, the 26-year-old has won two caps for his country to date. A strong and intelligent centre-back, Tarkowski is also a skilled passer of the ball, and that should fit well with the style in which Gareth Southgate wants his England team to play. We think he’d be Gareth Southgate’s first port of call if he were without any one of John Stones, Joe Gomez, Harry Maguire and Tarkowski’s former club teammate Michael Keane.
LB – Ben Chilwell
Given that he has recently won his first 5 England caps and impressed during those outings, it may seem a little harsh that we don’t think Gareth Southgate would name Ben Chilwell in his ideal 23 right now. However, just like at right-back, it’s simply a case of England having a lot of options in the position. We think Danny Rose is still the first choice when fit, followed by Luke Shaw. If you disagree, feel free to swap Chilwell out for either Rose or Shaw.
CM – Harry Winks
We’ve opted for a 4-3-3 for our England ‘B’ team, with three central midfielders, and we start with the deepest of that trio in the form of Harry Winks. The Tottenham midfielder has threatened to be a really top player at times, but has failed to break through as a regular with either Spurs or England. There was an awful lot of competition for this position in our ‘B’ team, and arguments could be made for the likes of Jack Wilshere, Lewis Cook and Nathaniel Chalobah. We think Winks is a good player though, he’s playing at a higher level than those three right now and time is still on his side.
CM – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
One of the easier decisions in this team, if – as we do – you can’t find a place for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Gareth Southgate’s favoured 23, then he is a sure-fire starter for any second string. The Ox looked a good bet not just to travel to Russia with England, but possibly to start at the finals prior to picking up a serious injury which saw him miss both the World Cup and the Champions League final.
The former Arsenal man brings an injection of pace and dynamism to the centre of midfield, as well as being really good on the ball.
CM – James Maddison
It was really tricky leaving Adam Lallana out of our starting XI, since he is a player we like a lot, and one we suspect Gareth Southgate would have viewed favourably too were it not for his injury struggles over the last couple of years. However, the Liverpool midfielders lack of game time combined with James Maddison’s impressive start to life in the Premier League, means we go with the former Norwich star. Maddison joined Leicester City in the summer, hoping to bring a touch of magic in the absence of Riyad Mahrez, and he’s shown signs that he could be capable of doing just that.
RW – Reiss Nelson
On the right flank is the first player in our starting XI who is yet to be capped by England at full international level, although you wouldn’t bet against him breaking into the squad for the upcoming Euros in 2020. Gareth Southgate has shown no reluctance in handing young players an opportunity, meaning that if Reiss Nelson manages to maintain his current form, he can expect a phone call very soon.
The 18-year-old Hoffenheim loanee loanee is highly thought of at Arsenal, and he’s shown why since linking up with the Bundesliga outfit. Incredibly, he has averaged a goal every 54 minutes in the division this season, with his speed, finishing and control earning him a lot of admirers. He takes the right wing spot in our England ‘B’ team for now.
LW – Demarai Gray
Making it two uncapped players in quick succession, Demarai Gray has been called up to the England first team, but he’s yet to actually get out there on the pitch. A star for the under-21’s, he’s scored 7 goals from 21 appearances for the youth side formerly managed by Southgate himself.
A Premier League winner having joined Leicester mid-way through their extraordinary title-winning campaign, Gray isn’t having a barnstorming season right now, but he has made almost 200 first team appearances as a player and he’s still only 22. A tricky customer who is quick and skilful, we think Gray and Nelson would make really dangerous wide men in a 4-3-3.
ST – Glenn Murray
Well, whilst the entire defence and midfield in our England ‘B’ team XI have been capped by England, Glenn Murray rounds off our entirely uncapped front three. Unlike with the others, it isn’t only a matter of time before Murray gets the nod. The Brighton striker is a late bloomer, now aged 35, and he has previously played non-league football.
There’s a reason why Chris Houghton has just agreed a contract extension to keep the veteran forward at the Amex until 2020 though. Having scored a very respectable 12 goals last season, he has bagged 7 in 13 already this season. Only two Englishmen have scored more, and Murray’s minutes per goal record is more impressive than that of Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Callum Wilson.
Murray’s genius is in knowing exactly what his skills are and what his limitations are. He’s never going to run defenders into the ground or score wonderful individual goals, but he has a sixth sense for sniffing out chances and a real coolness in front of goal, so he gets the nod for us over the likes of Danny Ings and Troy Deeney.
That’s it for our starting XI, but we’re not done yet! Our entire 23-man England ‘B’ team squad reads; Joe Hart, Nick Pope, Tom Heaton, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Chilwell, Lewis Dunk, James Tarkowski, Ashley Young, Jamaal Lascelles, Nathaniel Clyne, Ryan Bertrand, Harry Winks, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, James Maddison, Will Hughes, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Demarai Gray, Reiss Nelson, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings and Glenn Murray.
We think there’s a lot of quality in that squad, particularly in the full-back and central/attacking midfield areas. And even then, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Theo Walcott, Nathaniel Chalobah, Jonjo Shelvey, Ben Mee, Ryan Sessegnon, Jake Livermore, Lewis Cook, Troy Deeney and Andre Gray didn’t even make our 23-man squad.
So let us know what you think… Who should have made our first team squad rather than our ‘B’ team squad? How would you line-up if you were in charge of an England ‘B’ team? Who was criminally left out of our 23-man ‘B’ team squad or even starting XI? And finally, and we think this is a tricky one, how do you think our ‘B’ team would get on if they were to enter the Euros or World Cup as an independent nation?
Oh, and actually, finally finally, would you like to see the England B team make a return, and would you tune in to watch their games?