Gareth Southgate has rewarded Ollie Watkins for his excellent debut season in the Premier League by awarding him a first call-up from England. The 25-year-old Aston Villa forward has scored 10 goals in the competition, plus two more in the Carabao Cup, and takes his place in a 26-man squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.
The biggest surprises in the Southgate announcement were the absences of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Leeds forward Patrick Bamford. Southgate said Alexander-Arnold had been eliminated because he had not matched the “exceptional” form of Reece James and Kieran Trippier. Kyle Walker, another right-back, joins that pair on the team.
“There are some areas of the field where we have incredible competition for places and Trent is very unfortunate,” Southgate said. “I don’t think he has played to the level that he found in recent years, but I think he is getting very close to that now. I think that in the last few weeks he has definitely taken steps in the right direction.
“It’s just that we believe that Reece James and Kieran Trippier have had exceptional seasons with their clubs. Kyle Walker is in great shape and we have other players in the league who are playing well too. [Matty] Cash at Aston Villa, [Luke] Ayling in Leeds. We have two very good right-backs in the U21. It is a position of remarkable strength.
“What I have told Trent today is that I made the same call to Kyle and Kieran in the past and their response was good and they accepted the challenge and found themselves back on the team and Trent is of course a great talent and I am confident that he will play an important role for England in the future. It is lost this time. But we could possibly be sitting here before the summer and he’s with us. “
Bamford was expected to get the nod ahead of Watkins and in the face of injuries to the central forwards, and Southgate said he had been “very close.” Harry Winks, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Michael Keane, who had previously been internationals, have been left out.
As expected, Southgate has selected fit defenders Luke Shaw and John Stones from Manchester United and Manchester City respectively, and has also called up Jesse Lingard, who is on loan to West Ham from Manchester United.
Southgate has also included 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, even though his club is reluctant to release him due to the need for returnees to Germany from the UK to isolate themselves for 14 days. The situation is fluid and the hope in the Football Association is that it can still change, although Southgate said he did not expect it to come.
West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone has been selected for the first time in the absence of the injured Jordan Pickford.
Southgate said of Watkins: “We like his pressure, the speed and the racing behind. He has some improvements to make to tie the game together, but in his first season in the Premier League at a big club, he has done exceptionally well.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism