OPINION: Southgate should be bold in England team selection against Malta
Domestic football takes a back seat this weekend with the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers returning to our television screens, with a place at the tournament in Russia firmly up for grabs.
England will have a new manager in the dugout for the visit of Malta, with Under-21 boss Gareth Southgate replacing Sam Allardyce on an interim basis, following just one game in charge for the ex-Sunderland manager.
Southgate appeased absolutely nobody by announcing that the out of form and out of sorts Wayne Rooney would keep the captaincy, with the Manchester United player set to retain his place in the starting line-up on Saturday.
To give the stand-in gaffer some credit he did call-up in-form Burnley central defender Michael Keane but only after his most bizarre selection, Glen Johnson, pulled out of the squad with an injury.
Johnson, 32, was selected despite some pretty ordinary form for Stoke City, with Crystal Palace’s Joel Ward, Bournemouth’s Adam Smith and Burnley’s Matt Lowton, all performing statistically better than the veteran at right-back, during the current campaign.
If the Three Lions fail to beat a bunch of butchers, bakers and candlestick makers from Malta then frankly they should sack it all off as a bad job, the magnitude of the victory margin is really the only thing to determine as far as Saturday’s game goes.
I would like to see Southgate be bold in his team selection this weekend and hand starts to some players who missed out against Slovakia in September. The likes of Keane, Dele Alli and Theo Walcott, who has been in scintillating form for Arsenal so far during the 2016/17 campaign, would all start for me on Saturday evening.
You might think I am a little bonkers for saying that I would select a man who was only a late call-up to the squad but Keane and John Stones could work well in tandem.
Phil Jagielka was poor at best for England during the World Cup in 2016 and with Gary Cahill desperately short of form and Chris Smalling only just returning from injury, the young Burnley man is a decent option to have in the squad.
The omission of Tottenham man Dele Alli from Allardyce’s first starting line-up was a strange one to say the least.
Alli offered a timely reminder to the England management team of exactly what he is capable of, with a stunning performance during Spurs’ 2-0 win over Manchester City last weekend.
Admittedly he was underwhelming at the Euros in the summer but at 20-years-old he fits the bill as being one of the players England should be looking to build a team around for the future.
Big Sam’s team that defeated Slovakia with a last minute goal in the first game of the group was underwhelming to say the least, with several of the Euro 2016 flops remarkably keeping their place in the side.
Harry Kane was present in that team despite his abject displays at the Euros and an injury to the striker this time around will ensure that Southgate is forced into a change in attack.
Of course Jamie Vardy would probably be a handy enough replacement for the Tottenham man, although last season’s 24-goal man has struggled for form himself this season, netting just three times in all competitions for Leicester City.
For me, Manchester United youngster Marcus Rashford would get the nod to replace Kane as the lone striker, with the 18-year-old set to be an England regular for a number of years.
Quite how Big Sam decided that he wasn’t worthy of inclusion in his first, and only, England squad in the first place I will never understand. Rashford did more in five minutes against Iceland at the Euros than several others players did in the whole tournament!
It is unlikely that Southgate will rotate too much given his desire to do well during his three qualifying games in charge, which will subsequently throw his name into contention for the role on a more permanent basis.