The announcement of the England squad always creates controversy and honestly, sometimes that controversy is welcomed.
It is enjoyable to see fans debate over who should or should not be included. In the end, it should boil down to putting trust in the manager and allowing him to experiment with his team. That being said, out of all the contentious decisions Gareth Southgate has made for the upcoming Nations League games against Iceland and Denmark – and let’s admit it, there have been a fair few – omitting a left- sided defender seems particularly bizarre.
Admittedly, Southgate has had to deal with a small injury crisis in the position. Specifically, Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw, who have been his go to options over the last year or so. While this was likely the root of Southgate’s selection headache, there are certainly still some questions that need answering.
One of the most pressing issues fans will want to know is who does he actually plan to play in that position?
Looking at the defensive options selected, only Tyrone Mings is naturally left-footed but he has played the entire season in central defence. Many do see his selection as justified, particularly as he played a pivotal part in ensuring Villa’s survival last season but it’s unlikely that any supporter is comfortable with the idea of his 6’5″ frame bombing up and down the left-hand side for 90 minutes.
Another possibility is that one of the three right-backs included in the squad might be part of a plan to provide left-sided cover. We saw with Ashley Young at the 2018 World Cup that Southgate was not afraid to play a right footed player on the left, though Young did have some experience in the position playing for Manchester United.
As Trent Alexander-Arnold is arguably already the best in Europe in his more natural position, you would think he will nail down the starting spot on the right side of defence. That leaves Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, and realistically, neither will work.
Walker has been used more centrally under Southgate and has featured as a consistent starter in that position which is unlikely to change. Trippier, on the other hand, has always been dangerous going forward on the right but he may struggle to adapt to an entirely different position so quickly.
The biggest question that everyone is wondering is why has he not selected somebody who has actually proven that they can play left-back at the top level?
Ryan Bertrand and Aaron Cresswell both have bags of Premier League experience, have represented their country when called upon in the past, and are certainly capable of filling in-they must feel extremely hard done by.
England fans, meanwhile, were also excited by the possibility of seeing either Brandon Williams or Bukayo Saka included in the squad. Both have shown in their respective breakthrough seasons that they can exceed expectations. Williams is the more obvious defensive choice, seeing that it his natural position, but Saka’s versatility surely interested Southgate.
The omission of either, or anybody else for that matter, is a huge gamble. While they are sometimes necessary – perhaps to help inspire overturning a bad run of form or to make a statement to your players that nobody’s position is safe – this feels like a move in the right decision.
Williams and Saka are lacking experience, sure, but what kind of message does it send out when they’re clearly trusted to start for Manchester United and Arsenal – two of the biggest clubs in the country – but aren’t considered good enough to get the nod ahead of an out-of-position teammate?
The choice Southgate defies logic for two reasons – not only are they better suited to a style of play he seems intent on using, he’s denying them the opportunity to step up to the international stage in arguably two games that England should comfortably be winning.