Gareth Southgate insists door still open for England hopefuls

England manager Gareth Southgate.England manager Gareth Southgate.
England manager Gareth Southgate.
Gareth Southgate insists the door is still open for new players to force their way into his England squad for the European Championships next summer.

The Three Lions boss has handed out eight debuts across the last two fixtures as he continues to cast his eye over the talent at his disposal.

Sheffield-born Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Bukayo Saka, Harvey Barnes and Reece James all picked up their first senior caps in Thursday’s 3-0 friendly win over Wales.

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That followed on from debuts for Conor Coady, Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips, Jack Grealish and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in last month’s 0-0 Nations League draw in Denmark.

So, while Southgate admits he should be whittling down his options ahead of the rescheduled Euros next summer, he refused to rule out more players breaking through before then.

“I will never say never because young players these days emerge so quickly and can advance so quickly that they can really shoot themselves up the pecking order,” he said.

“You would imagine we would like to be settled, but we are going to have three games next month and three in March which is going to be complicated as well.

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“We feel like we want to narrow down the pool and at the moment we have got a very good idea of what the majority of the squad will look like but there are definitely places up for grabs.

“Somebody like Dominic Calvert-Lewin is showing a real strong case to force his way into our thinking more consistently and yet against Wales was the first time he has been on the pitch for us so that is a prime example of what is possible when form is good.”

While England – who play Belgium tomorrow at Wembley – qualified for Euro 2020 with a near-perfect record, Southgate admits there are certain tweaks that will be required when entering the finals themselves.

“We are absolutely looking at what is the best way of winning at tournament level,” he added.

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“I always remember when I played for Glenn Hoddle we talked about qualifying football and tournament football and they are different challenges and the types of game and standard of opposition is different.

“We recognised that ahead of Russia (the 2018 World Cup) and have felt the same for a reasonable while but there are certain players who are emerging who are helping us to really consolidate that thinking.

“It means in certain positions on the field there will be really, really intense competition for places but we need that.

“The players in the end are going to fight it out whereas a little bit in the 4-3-3 in two or three positions we are quite light of depth and if we have one injury or two injuries we are really short. Part of our thinking is in that depth of talent in all of the positions.”

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Like much of Southgate’s team, Coady’s roots are in the EFL, having joined Wolves from Huddersfield Town in 2015 – when both sides were competing in the Sky Bet Championship.

Southgate acknowledged the role the EFL can have in giving young players a chance as several clubs below the top-flight continue to struggle financially following the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have always had that connection,” he said of England players who got their grounding in lower-league teams.

“Our back three at the World Cup were John Stones, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire – two started at Sheffield United when they weren’t in the Premier League and Stones was at Barnsley.

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“You could have gone through a lot of that squad in the same way, our pyramid is incredibly strong and very often the opportunity to play comes earlier for players who are in the Championship – particularly players at the back.

“We know how important that is, of course it is a very complicated time for everybody in regards to surviving this and, like every business, the clubs in the Football League have got a huge challenge but hopefully they are able to come through it.”

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