Southgate shakes up England squad ahead of World Cup
Pope, Tarkowski, Mawson and Cook headline much-changed squad as Cahill misses out.
England manager Gareth Southgate named four uncapped players, overlooked several senior figures and opened up the battle for the number one jersey in a bold squad selection ahead of the World Cup.
Attempting to ignore the potential repercussions of political tension between the UK and tournament hosts Russia, Thursday saw the Three Lions boss announce his final squad before the group heading to the finals is named.
Burnley’s Nick Pope and James Tarkowski received their first call-ups for this month’s friendlies against Holland and Italy, as did Swansea defender Alfie Mawson.
Uncapped Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook was also included but there was no place in the 27-man squad for defenders Chris Smalling, Michael Keane or Gary Cahill.
The latter has captained England during Southgate’s reign but the manager did not shirk a difficult decision as he looks to hone his three-man defence.
“First and foremost, I was really pleased with the way we defended in the games in November,” he said.
“(John) Stones, (Harry) Maguire, (Joe) Gomez took the bulk of that game-time, they were outstanding.
“On top of that, we’ve got other players that I want to have a look at – Tarkowski, Mawson, players we want to look at not just for now but beyond the summer as well.
“Maybe they’re ready for the World Cup, maybe it’s beyond that as well, and we’ve got people like Eric Dier who also in a back three are players we want to see.
“(Leaving Cahill out was) a very difficult call because Gary has played a lot of our qualifying matches and is a great guy.
“A player I really respect, so difficult call but I don’t want to bring a senior player in if there are others I need to look at and he’s not going to play.”
Southgate insists the door is not shut on Cahill for the World Cup, nor on the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Phil Jones and Fabian Delph.
While the trio are struggling for fitness, star turn Harry Kane is out with an ankle injury – but there is no fear about his availability for the summer.
“I think the medical reports we have are that for sure he’ll play well before the end of the season,” Southgate said.
“You never want any player to experience injury and of course Tottenham have some very big matches coming up. It’s a disappointment for us not to have Harry with us.
“But I think of the 14 matches I’ve had in charge he’s only actually been available for six and within those six he’s scored seven goals. So, there’s an indication of his importance and his standing for us.
“Having said that, we’ve had to cope without him and it’s important we’re able to cope without him because you never know what’s going to happen in football.”
Keeping options open saw Southgate name four goalkeepers, with new boy Pope included with Joe Hart despite the West Ham shot-stopper’s struggles.
“Clearly the number one jersey is up for grabs,” he said.
“Joe has had a difficult period with his club… he’s got 74 caps, he’s been our number one through the qualifying.
“He’s an important member of the squad so we wanted to keep him involved because we don’t really know how the eight to 10 weeks pan out for all of our goalkeepers.
“But there is good competition for places and I think they’re all looking forward to that.”
Southgate’s preference for players to be regulars and in good form is proving difficult to fulfil.
It explains why the recalled Danny Welbeck’s experience and talent has been looked at more than his game time, but Arsenal team-mate Jack Wilshere is back in on merit.
“Jack’s a player that has unquestionable talent,” he said of a player whose last appearance was the Euro 2016 exit to Iceland.
“I’ve had to field a lot of questions about him over the last six months or so, but the key for me is that he’s now playing in the games that matter for Arsenal and has been playing well.”