Gareth Southgate has continually promoted youth over experience during his time as England manager, and there’s a similar flavour to his first 25-man squad of a season which culminates in Euro 2020.
Given the Three Lions were World Cup semi-finalists in Russia last summer and third-place playoff winners in the UEFA Nations League since then, everyone expects them to breeze through qualifying.
A youthful setup has only taken Southgate so far though – to the penultimate hurdle of tournaments. His latest roster has just three players older than 28 on it, and one of those is new Aston Villa goalie Tom Heaton.
Fellow recent Villa Park recruit Tyrone Mings is one of two first-time call-ups for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Kosovo. It’s something of a Cinderella story for the former Ipswich Town defender whose time with Bournemouth was wrecked by a serious knee injury.
The other maiden call-up Southgate opted for was Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who joined Manchester United for a reported £50,000,000 from Crystal Palace over the summer. It’s not so much his selection that is surprising, but the player omitted so the 21-year-old can have a chance.
Kyle Walker is a couple of caps short of his half-century for England. His decision to leave Tottenham – the club that has developed a substantial core of players used by Southgate – for Manchester City is entirely vindicated by subsequent trophies and winners’ medals.
Since Walker swapped North London for the Etihad in the summer of 2017, Man City have won five of a possible six major domestic trophies on offer in English football. He helped them to a Premier League, FA Cup and EFL Cup treble last season, but finds himself out of international contention all of a sudden.
Can England afford to ignore a proven winner who has obviously improved under Pep Guardiola? Not if they are to live up to their status as 9/2 second-favourites to win the Euros in the international football betting markets on offer at bet365.
This may be a storm in a teacup. Southgate could just be resting right back Walker who played in England’s UEFA Nations League finals campaign over the summer.
Being kicked by uncompromising Eastern European footballers looking to curb his natural instincts to get forward isn’t particularly appealing. Why then is former Spurs teammate Kieran Trippier, who by his own admission had a poor campaign last term despite a run to the Champions League final, still in the squad?
Surely, it’s Trippier who would benefit from being rested. He too has left Tottenham for Atletico Madrid and is adjusting to a new life in Spain and football culture in La Liga under passionate, demanding Argentine coach Diego Simeone.
Without Walker, no England defender selected has more than 30 caps. Only two have 20 or more, and just three have over 10. There is a massive lack of experience at the back with first-choice keeper Jordan Pickford on 19.
Going into the September international break, only Raheem Sterling – the joint-most experienced Three Lions player selected – had scored more Premier League goals than Burnley striker Ashley Barnes.
Austria don’t seem interested in offering him a belated senior international career having once played for their Under-20 team, but it appears he’s the somewhat unfashionable age of 29.
Barnes’ claims of an England call-up have been ignored by Southgate. Why? Well, he doesn’t fit the profile of younger players preferred by the Three Lions boss.
Exciting up-and-coming talents throughout the squad in Wan-Bissaka, Jadon Sancho, Declan Rice, Mason Mount, James Maddison and Ben Chilwell are all well and good, but the best teams often blend youth and experience.
Southgate is gambling on the old sporting adage: if you’re good enough then you’re old enough for England.