Sterling must take advantage of break
Gareth Southgate’s revelation that Raheem Sterling “doesn’t think he’s operating at the level he needs” after leaving the forward out of his latest England squad was a demonstration of noteworthy candour by both player and manager.
Sterling’s move to Chelsea last summer has not worked out as envisaged, which is not necessarily a criticism of the 28-year-old, but more a reflection of the Blues’ hugely underwhelming season.
But for Sterling to acknowledge he is not matching the expectations that both he and others have of him, to the extent he feels it best to pass on an international call up, shows the extent to which he is unhappy with his displays.
Sterling’s decision also demonstrates the seniority that he enjoys with England as one of the most experienced members of Southgate’s squad. A player on the periphery would surely not have passed up the opportunity to link up with the international team, even for relatively low-key fixtures such as these.
Of course, Sterling’s decision also grants him a longer summer break, which could be invaluable as he looks to recover from a hamstring injury and put a bleak season behind him.
But with several attacking players no doubt looking to take advantage of Sterling’s absence, he will have to ensure he uses the summer to get back to his previous levels if he wants to retain his place in Southgate’s plans.
Is this finally Trent’s time for England?
Are we potentially set to see a new-look England, especially when it comes to the right-back position?
Trent Alexander-Arnold comes into the England team alongside John Stones having featured in hybrid right-back-midfield roles that has changed the recent form of both Liverpool and Manchester City respectively.
With Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier also called up again, Southgate has the chance to revert to a more traditional right-back role. But against lesser-quality opponents such as Malta and North Macedonia, is this the chance for Southgate to experiment?
Asked about Alexander-Arnold’s “slightly different role”, Southgate said: “His new role is something I’ve talked to him about in the last couple of weeks.”
Southgate has shown the desire to play the Liverpool defender in a midfield role in the past, most notably a failed experiment during a World Cup qualifier against Andorra nearly two years ago.
Perhaps this is the international opportunity Alexander-Arnold has been waiting for.
Eze resurgence under Hodgson earns first England call-up
Eberechi Eze is one of the Premier League’s underrated talents, but Gareth Southgate has clearly been keeping an eye on his former club, Crystal Palace, and their array of attacking prowess.
It’s second time lucky for Eze. He was set to be included in England’s Euro 2021 squad, but he picked up an Achilles injury in training, which sidelined him for almost a year. It has taken another 12 months for Eze to find himself back in contention for a senior call-up.
It’s another former England manager who has arguably given Eze a helping hand too. As Crystal Palace toiled in the final few months of Patrick Vieira’s reign, the 24-year-old found himself relegated to the bench – although he has featured in every Premier League game this season.
But under Roy Hodgson, Eze has started in all nine league games and playing in their entirety. He has scored six goals with one assist too, having scored just four goals with three assists in the previous 28 Premier League matches.
England have often been accused of being too passive and not creating enough. Eze can provide a solution to those problems with his creativity, pace and skill, and will offer a ‘super-sub’ effect to try and swing the game in England’s favour.
“We’ve liked him for a long time,” Southgate said of Eze.
“He has finished the season really strongly. He can play in a couple of positions across the attacking line. Everyone I speak to talks brilliantly about him as a person.”
Southgate too has talked previously of the want to cultivate a squad of good people as well as talented players – Eze fits both moulds. The June internationals could be just the start of a long senior England career.
Is White’s England future over?
Gareth Southgate reportedly reached out to Ben White ahead of announcing his latest England squad which then did not feature the Arsenal right-back.
White left the World Cup early due to personal reasons having not played a minute in Qatar and was then not selected for the qualifiers in March. Southgate said previously that White was still in his plans.
The 25-year-old has shone for Arsenal this season although three right-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker, have been picked ahead of him.
The trio all have more international experience than White, although Walker is expected to miss England’s first game this summer in Malta to recover from the Champions League final.
Trippier has been deployed at left-back by Southgate before while Alexander-Arnold has never been a regular starter on the right. His improved form at the back end of this season made him a certain pick though and Southgate may be wanting to experiment with the Liverpool player’s new hybrid position in midfield.
The injured Reece James will be another option at right-back closer to Euro 2024 which leaves White’s England future looking uncertain.