I already know my 2018 squad, hints Southgate
World Cup selection will be youthful, says coach Pickford now serious rival to Hart in goal
CHIEF FOOTBALL CORRESPONDENT
“I think if we had to pick a 23 tomorrow, we would know what it is,” Southgate said. “We will constantly update that. Some of that will be on form but a lot of that will be on the players who we think are capable of performing on the biggest stage.”
He added: “I think we would be very close to the 23 in March but there’s obviously four or five players perhaps that aren’t with us through injury now. So I don’t think it can be as clear-cut as that. But, for sure, I think in our minds we’re getting closer. We’ve almost got a big jigsaw puzzle now, we know how we want to play, what are the pieces that fit into it, who would be our preferred choices.”
Following England’s encouraging performance in the goalless draw at home to Germany, Southgate is also more committed than ever to playing with three at the back and two strikers in a 3-5-2. The alternative is a 3-4-2-1 approach, which would suit Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Adam Lallana, none of whom are in this squad.
“I think everybody saw that system and what it allowed us to do the other night and what it might allow us to do moving forward,” Southgate said. “I like the idea that we can get two forwards on the pitch. Not so many teams do that these days and it’s not a problem that defenders have to face so often which can give you something that causes an opposition a fresh challenge.”
Southgate is committed to youth, with the debut of 21-year-old Ruben Loftus-cheek possibly even good enough for him to force his way into the World Cup squad. Southgate has also called up three more young players: goalkeeper Angus Gunn, midfielder Lewis Cook and striker Dominic Solanke from the under-21s. “It’s been pleasing to see Angus now playing regular first-team football [on loan from Manchester City at Norwich City], it’s his first season doing that,” Southgate said. “With Dom and Lewis, we’re talking about a reward, really, for one captaining the Under-20 World Cup winners and the other one the golden boot winner. Both have won at European under-17 level and the World Cup at under-20, so their pedigree is good and we’re looking forward to integrating them into the seniors.”
Changes to the team will be made against Brazil, who Southgate described as “more difficult” opponents than Germany. England will consider practising penalties after one of the friendlies before they go to Russia – with two warm-up games after March also to come. “That is an option,” Southgate said of planning a way to combat the nation’s traditional failing.