Gareth Southgate is bound to experiment with his 27-man squad during England’s friendly with the Netherlands on Friday.
The Three Lions are preparing for this summer’s World Cup in Russia and are currently contending with the absence of Harry Kane.
Jack Wilshere has returned to the fold though while Ashley Young’s rise to prominence as a left-back has given Southgate plenty of food for thought heading into this fixture.
WILSHERE TO PROVE HIS WORTH
Perhaps the England squad’s biggest drawback heading into the World Cup is their lack of leadership. A close second for the young Three Lions though is their rather bland central midfield, but Jack Wilshere’s first involvement since England’s Euro 2016 elimination could spruce things up.
The midfielder’s injury travails are well-documented but his form for Arsenal since being reintegrated into the side in December has been excellent.
While boasting plenty of pace and youthful exuberance in the final third, it’s the middle of the park that has impeded England’s ventures forward. The lack of a creative presence at the team’s core could finally be addressed if Wilshere proves his mettle against the Netherlands.
Given that the likes of Jordan Henderson and Jake Livermore don’t exactly scream ‘dynamism’, England will hope that this time, Jack is back for the long haul.
Young has done exceedingly well to not only remain relevant at Manchester United but establish himself as one of their most consistent performers. His work ethic and adherence to tactical instruction has earned him the trust of one of the most demanding coaches in Jose Mourinho.
Young was completely out of the fray for England for over four years between 2013 and 2017 before earning a call up from Gareth Southgate in November last year. With Danny Rose, Luke Shaw and Ryan Bertrand not having played enough this season, the winger turned full-back who will be 33 this summer is emerging as a favourite to make the World Cup squad.
Southgate may even consider utilising the United man at right-back or further up the pitch over the course of the friendly against the Netherlands to explore his versatility. At the World Cup itself, against top opposition and particularly during the knockout stages, a disciplined and experienced Young could prove invaluable.
COPING WITHOUT KANE
Having consistently scored at an average of 32 goals a season over the last four years, it’s no wonder that Harry Kane is perceived to be paramount to England’s World Cup campaign. However, going into a major tournament, Southgate must prepare for the worst.
While Kane should be back in action in a month’s time, his current injury layoff gives the manager an opportunity to work on provisions for his absence. Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford will be the leading candidates to start up front against the Netherlands but either one will require an adjustment in approach from the rest of the team.
Neither are the complete striker that Kane has proved to be but do boast an edge in terms of pace in behind and the ability to run the channels. This friendly could also help Southgate decide on who will deputise for the Tottenham striker when the World Cup comes around.
Argentina have based themselves at the Premier League leaders’ City football Academy ahead of their friendly against Italy at the Etihad Stadium on Friday.
Messi arrived to join up with the rest of the squad on Tuesday and was present at a training session open to media in the afternoon.
Also present but not participating was City striker Sergio Aguero, who has been sidelined with a knee injury recently.
Another City player, defender Nicolas Otamendi, was involved along with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Javier Mascherano and Marcos Rojo.
Gareth Southgate is portrayed as ‘Mr Nice Guy’ but the England manager says those behind the scenes see a different character.
The 47-year-old is just three months away from leading his country into the World Cup, having previously been selected for four major tournaments in his days as a defender.
Southgate knows better than most what it means to represent England, so is well aware how hard being overlooked for the final squad before making his World Cup selection must have hit the likes of Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Michael Keane.
The 57-cap defender has also eased out all-time top scorer Wayne Rooney during his time in charge, suggesting extra depths to a character that some have suggested is too nice for the cut and thrust of elite management.
“I was only ever accused of that by somebody I worked with once, when I was youth player,” Southgate told the Coaches’ Voice when his ‘Mr Nice Guy’ persona was put to him.
“And that was probably six or seven weeks into my apprenticeship and, you know, they were having to toughen me up and there were some home truths given.
“But no manager I played for ever accused me of it after.
“I mean I’m saying accused as if it’s something be ashamed of and I think anybody that works with me that, you know, I want to win, and I’m prepared to challenge people.
“And so, yeah, does that I mean I walk down the street and I’m rude to people and obnoxious to people? Well, I hope not.
“But does that mean I don’t want to win and does that mean I’m not prepared to fight for the company I work for, the club I work for or push people as far as possible and challenge people? Well, no.
“I think I’m as determined as anybody else to be successful and I suppose my years of playing – and playing at a high level although not winning quite what I wanted to win – and now managing at a high level would tell people that there’s probably more than they know about me.
“But I guess from the outside you never really know people unless you’re living with them or working with them and even then you’ve got other sides to your character that are left for home and other bits that are brought into the office.”