Gareth Southgate is expected to rotate his squad for Sunday’s clash at Wembley and rest his star players, giving the opportunity for some fringe players to impress against Andorra
Gareth Southgate probably deserves a statue for what he has achieved in his five years as England manager, even if a pedant may point out he is yet to actually win anything.
The Three Lions boss guided his England team to another resounding victory, beating Hungary 4-0 at the Puskas Arena despite a volatile atmosphere.
Picking up his players after their agonising penalty shootout defeat in the Euro 2020 final to Italy would have been difficult, but Southgate’s nurturing touch has brought joy back to his squad’s faces.
Unfortunately for the 50-year-old, he has the positive dilemma on having to choose only 11 players to start in every game he coaches when he could quite easily field another entire XI.
The strength in depth in this England squad means that when they face Andorra at Wembley on Sunday, Southgate will have the luxury of being able to change his entire XI.
But while some years ago that may have weakened his options, the players who come in won’t be classed as “second string” by any stretch.
Southgate has created a culture of healthy competition within the camp and there is an understanding that everyone will get minutes where possible, especially against opposition like Andorra where they are strong favourites.
There will be some players perhaps more eager than others to get their chance at Wembley and Mirror Football picks out four players who will be chomping at the bit for a starting spot…
Which player do you think deserves to start against Andorra? Comment below.
It is difficult to comprehend that Southgate had once considered leaving Alexander-Arnold at home for Euro 2020 after dropping him back in March. As fate would have it, the right-back suffered an injury shortly after being named in his 33-man squad in June.
Now the 22-year-old has had a summer to recuperate and recover, Alexander-Arnold is slowly returning to his best form.
The defender is a superb asset when it comes to finding attacking players with a lofted ball through the channel. Equally, his ability to swing in an enticing delivery is perhaps only rivalled by Kieran Tripper in the squad.
There is fierce competition at right-back, with Kyle Walker the undisputed number one choice and Reece James battling for his inclusion. But with Walker now 31, Southgate may have to look beyond the Manchester City man when planning for Qatar 2022.
And that means it is down to Alexander-Arnold to demonstrate why he should be ahead of James in the pecking order.
It appears there are doubts from Southgate and Jurgen Klopp over his defensive positioning but against Andorra, he will be expected to attack high up the pitch. That is what Alexander-Arnold does best and if selected ahead of James, he can show just how effective he can be as a creator.
If the Borussia Dortmund midfielder isn’t pulling the strings alongside Declan Rice in the midfield at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in 14 months’ time, something has gone horribly wrong.
Still only 18, the midfielder exudes confidence when in possession and struts around the central areas like a player with 250 appearances under his belt. The actual figure is only 95.
He made a quiet impression during his two cameos at Euro 2020 and it feels like the World Cup qualification campaign will be his place to shine when Rice and Kalvin Phillips are given a breather.
The youngster was inexplicably the target of alleged racist abuse when warming up against Hungary and Southgate was keen to highlight his “mature” response after becoming aware of the abhorrent abuse.
Now he can get back to focusing on what he loves most: creating chances, gliding past defenders with the ball at his feet and scoring goals. If he does start on Sunday, expect him to give Andorra the runaround — and potentially earn a starting spot for the rest of the campaign.
What do Jack Cork, Dominic Solanke and Nathan Redmond all have in common? Aside from playing for South Coast clubs, the trio all made their England debut during the 2017-18 campaign — and are yet to add to their solitary cap.
It is possible that Southgate will hand a rest to Harry Kane to avoid sending the striker back to Tottenham injured and that leaves Bamford to scrap it out with Dominic Calvert-Lewin for the central striker role.
Opportunities do not come around too often to face a nation as tiny as Andorra on your international debut and Bamford will be hoping to snatch it with both hands if he makes his bow.
The 27-year-old was the next-highest English goalscorer after Kane in the Premier League last season with 17 goals and seven assists, and there is no question he has earned his right to make his name known on the International stage.
But so often, club form does not transfer to international football and Bamford will need to prove to his manager that he can perform without the animated Marcelo Bielsa coaching him from the sidelines.
Southgate has also used several different strikers in his squads over the past five years, including Ollie Watkins, Danny Ings and Tammy Abraham, who will all be knocking at the door if he fails to impress.
Dislodging the Manchester club pairing of John Stones and Harry Maguire is no easy feat and Tyrone Mings will need no reminding of that.
The Aston Villa centre-back has won 13 caps since making his debut in October 2019 and in that time, England have played 22 times. Consider the fact that he started in Maguire’s place for the opening two fixtures, keeping clean sheets in both, and it backs up the idea that Mings is a key figure in Southgate’s plans.
Of course, it benefits the 28-year-old much more when England play with a back three, being the only left-footed centre-back in the squad. For that reason, he will be hoping Maguire or Stones are rested for the Andorra match, as Southgate is likely to keep his 4-3-3 setup.
And if selected, Mings needs to have an incident-free game. For all of his composure and eye for a pass, he has picked up — perhaps unfairly — a reputation for making high-profile errors at club level.
Doing so against a top side like Germany or Italy would be understandable, but slip up against Andorra and he may cause Southgate to think twice about fielding him ahead of Michael Keane and Conor Coady.