Gareth Southgate‘s task(s) at hand have been anything but a walk in the park during his 14 months as England manager (as an aside, the England job has never been an easy one, for anyone), but the 47-year-old can be quite pleased with what he’s achieved thus far.
Having qualified the Three Lions for the 2018 World Cup as one of four sides (Germany, Spain and Belgium) to finish qualifying without a loss, Southgate’s focus is now fully fixed on next summer’s tournament in Russia. As such, the current international break has provided England’s former U-21 boss a golden opportunity to bring a number of peripheral players into the squad to make their case, and Southgate sure is making the most of it.
Friday’s draw with defending world champions Germany saw eight non-regulars feature for England, prompting Southgate to bring an additional trio of youngsters into camp ahead of Tuesday’s clash with another heavily favored side, Brazil.
21-year-old goalkeeper Angus Gunn (Manchester City, on loan to Norwich City) was brought in on Friday to replace the injured Jack Butland (broken finger). On Saturday, Southgate announced the arrivals of Liverpool striker Dominic Solanke and Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook, both 20 — and both of whom starred during England’s recent U-20 World Cup triumph, as top goalscorer and captain, respectively.
These are, clearly, the perks of qualifying during the initial round and avoiding the playoffs altogether. While other nations battle for their place in Russia, Southgate has been afforded an extra month — and two more fixtures — as he begins to assemble his 23-man squad. The three players added this weekend are, admittedly, long shots at this point, but their progression from youth to senior setup is undoubtedly an encouraging sign.
Phil Jones has also withdrawn from the current squad after suffering a thigh injury against Germany.