England squad: Has Gareth Southgate made the right decisions?

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Harry Maguire, Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips
Harry Maguire (left) and Kalvin Phillips (right) were named in the England squad before Maguire was withdrawn, while Jack Grealish did not make the cut

England manager Gareth Southgate's swift withdrawal of Manchester United captain Harry Maguire from his squad to face Iceland and Denmark in the Uefa Nations League in the aftermath of his court case in Greece cast an embarrassing shadow over an otherwise intriguing selection.

Maguire was originally named by Southgate but was removed only hours later after he was found guilty of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and repeated attempts of bribery following an incident in Mykonos.

Southgate had left himself some wriggle room as he initially publicly backed the 27-year-old, insisting he would wait to see how events unfolded - but it still represented an uncomfortable U-turn and unwelcome distraction as England prepare for their first matches since a 4-0 win in Kosovo in November.

The talk should have been of a host of fascinating decisions, including the selection of a number of exciting youngsters, a notable and controversial omission and the chance of redemption for two players who appeared to have been cast into the international wilderness.

Instead, the agenda was set by the Maguire affair, raising question over whether Southgate and the Football Association would have been better to delay the squad announcement, which still threw up some key issues for England.

Southgate rewards brilliance of youth

Phil Foden's elevation to England's full squad has been an inevitability since he started making his way through the junior ranks, particularly when he was named player of the tournament when they won the Under-17 World Cup three years ago.

The 20-year-old showed glimpses of his brilliance for Manchester City last season as he prepared to fill the vacancy left by David Silva. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he will be an England regular for years to come.

Football Focus: Phil Foden hails Man City's 'perfect balance' of Silva & De Bruyne

Southgate has also called on a thrilling teenage talent from the other side of the city in Manchester United's 18-year-old striker Mason Greenwood, who scored 17 goals last season. Greenwood, like Foden, carries the air of a natural at the highest level, irrespective of his youth.

Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips may be older at 24 but he has been touted for high honours for the past two seasons as a key component in Marcelo Bielsa's midfield - a calm, composed presence with outstanding use of the ball who can act both as a shield and a creator.

This trio now have every chance of being the beneficiaries of the decision to postpone the Euros by 12 months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Grealish snubbed as Southgate revisits old guard

Aston Villa's Jack Grealish may have been the main factor in their Premier League survival but he has clearly not done enough to convince Southgate of his worth at full England level.

There was surprise at the 24-year-old's exclusion but, like Leicester City's James Maddison - out injured this time - Grealish is discovering it can be a frustrating battle to break into Southgate's plans.

Instead, the manager has gone for the steadier Southampton captain James Ward-Prowse and Tottenham's Harry Winks along with Chelsea youngster Mason Mount and Declan Rice of West Ham. He is without injured Liverpool pair Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Southgate has demonstrated, however, that the door is never closed as Everton centre-half Michael Keane and Manchester City's Kyle Walker will testify. They are recalled after it looked like their England careers were behind them.

The manager's decision to select Spurs' Eric Dier, another member of England's old guard, as a centre-half option is another surprise, prompting outrage from supporters of Burnley and Brighton who see their men James Tarkowski and Lewis Dunk as preferable options.

Southgate, however, has seen plenty of Dier and trusts him to deliver what he wants either in defence or midfield.

Grealish and his many supporters at Villa and beyond will be wondering what he has to do to win a place in England's squad.

England's fearsome attacking options

How England's forwards compared last season at club level (all competitions)
Minutes per goal110163157126
Shots (on target)156 (61)81 (42)135 (61)104 (47)
% of games won65595247

England's trump card as they made their plans for the Euros was always going to be in attack, where Southgate has had an impressive range of weaponry to choose from.

Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford have already proved their quality with England. Now the extra months before next summer's proposed Euros has placed Greenwood firmly in the frame.

He has slipped seamlessly into Manchester United's attack, a cold-eyed and clinical finisher with pace to burn, his goal tally of 17 a joint record for a teenager in a season at the club, alongside George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney.

Southampton's Danny Ings also fully deserves his place in the squad after scoring 22 goals last season. The 28-year-old is a potent mixture of fierce work-rate and quality finishing, while Southgate has also seen enough to name Chelsea's Tammy Abraham.

England's keeper conundrum

How England's keepers fared in Premier League last season
Goals conceded565033
Clean sheets91513
% of shots saved627074
Errors leading to goals421
% of games won343939

Southgate's loyalty has ensured Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been his consistent first choice for more than two years. It is a decision made, justifiably in this context, on the basis he has never let England down.

It may, however, be only a matter of time before he does if he cannot arrest a decline that came into sharp relief with Everton at the end of last season.

He was guilty of errors that cost goals against Crystal Palace and Manchester United before lockdown and produced a series of mistake-ridden performances when the Premier League resumed.

Pickford is still only 26 and has plenty of time to recapture the old sparkle, but he has certainly given Southgate food for thought, with Dean Henderson now back at Manchester United and determined to challenge David de Gea, and Burnley's Nick Pope also outstanding last season.

If Southgate picks him again against Iceland and Denmark, Pickford cannot afford any mishaps.