IAN LADYMAN: There’s a fine line between consistency and stubbornness and if Gareth Southgate does not select James Maddison he’ll have fallen the wrong side of it… PLUS, why Frank Lampard is no better than Rafa Benitez
- Gareth Southgate can’t keep overlooking the Leicester star for the World Cup
- James Maddison has been sensational for the Foxes across the past season
- Plus, stats show Frank Lampard is no better than his Rafa Benitez at Everton
Gareth Southgate’s growing number of critics say the England manager is set in his ways. They say he is too wedded to a three-man defensive system when up against good teams.
They say he refuses to countenance an alternative to Harry Maguire and that Raheem Sterling always gets a game no matter how good, bad or indifferent his club form.
Southgate’s response to this is twofold. He points to tournament results — a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final — and he also talks of the value of consistency and loyalty. It is a fair riposte. For example, questions were being asked of Maguire and Sterling before the Euro 2020 tournament and both went on to contribute fully to a successful summer.
James Maddison has been one of the standout players in the Premier League this year
England boss Gareth Southgate can’t keep overlooking the midfielder for the World Cup squad
Pickford, Pope, Ramsdale; Alexander-Arnold, Walker (White if Walker unfit), Trippier, Maguire, Stones, Gomez, Coady, Dier, Shaw; Rice, Phillips, Bellingham, Henderson, Maddison, Foden, Mount, Grealish; Kane, Wilson, Rashford, Saka, Calvert-Lewin, Sterling.
There is, however, a fine line between consistency and stubbornness and if Southgate does not select James Maddison in his squad for Qatar that is announced on Thursday then he will have fallen the wrong side of it.
This week’s squad will be one comprising 26 players, rather than the usual 23. This is to give all competing nations a safeguard against issues with Covid.
With this in mind, it is actually harder to put together a squad without Maddison in it than it is to write down a list of 26 players that does include the Leicester player. If Maddison does not get on the plane then who makes it ahead of him? His Leicester team-mate Harvey Barnes? Jarrod Bowen? James Ward-Prowse? On current form, it would be an absurd call from a man not prone to making many.
There is much to be said for an inter-national manager knowing the spine of his team a few months short of a major tournament. Injuries and poor form have muddled that process for Southgate on this occasion. There was a time when we could have gone: Pickford, Maguire, Stones, Rice, Henderson, Sterling, Kane. But no longer.
Maddison has just one international appearance from 2019 but could return in Qatar
Equally, big tournaments traditionally offer up opportunities for wildcard players to emerge from nowhere to grab a chance and drag a country along with them.
For example, England’s progress to the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup is remembered for many things, one of them being David Platt’s volleyed goal against Belgium in the last 16. What is less clearly remembered is that Platt had made only one England start before that day and that his goal was his first for his country. It not only went on to define his career but also England’s very presence at that tournament.
Maddison offers that kind of potential impact this time round. Southgate gave him just one cap in 2019 and subsequently wrote him off for a number of reasons, not all of them related to actual football.
But the 25-year-old’s play for his club this season has been terrific. Whether he has been driven by a desire to make Southgate’s squad is not known but should not matter. A squad of 26 permits a manager a gamble or two and Maddison should be one of Southgate’s.
If he isn’t, we must presume he hasn’t been watching properly.
Southgate will head for the World Cup with the England squad in two weeks time
LAMPARD IS NO BETTER THAN BENITEZ
Frank Lampard begged to differ when it was suggested on Saturday his team are taking ‘one step forward and two steps back’.
‘I think it’s the other way round,’ he said.
Everton are easier on the eye under Lampard than they were under predecessor Rafa Benitez. There is a more discernible pattern of play. But the numbers are not greatly different.
Benitez had taken a point a game when he was sacked after 19 fixtures last season and his team were fifth from bottom.
Lampard’s team currently have 14 from 14 and are also fifth from bottom. It feels as though the month after the Premier League resumes will be fundamental to what happens next.
Everton fell to a 2-0 defeat at home by Leicester City as their season struggles continued under Frank Lampard (right) nearly a year on from dismissing previous boss Rafa Benitez (left)
PITY IT TOOK MEAD TO HIT OUT AT QATAR
At last an England player has the courage to say something about Qatar. It’s just a shame it was not one of the men.
After months of silence from Gareth Southgate’s players, England and Arsenal forward Beth Mead offered her views on the forthcoming World Cup to BBC’s Women’s Hour.
‘From the minute it was announced I thought it wasn’t the best idea,’ Mead said.
‘It’s not something I will be backing or promoting. It’s disappointing. Money talks.’
Arsenal’s Beth Mead spoke out about Qatar’s poor human rights record ahead of World Cup
Mead’s words were not inflammatory or sensationalist. But they were enough. She is a gay woman and it is illegal to be so in Qatar. She will feel now that she has made her point which is something that none of Southgate’s players can lay claim to.
Some observers argue we should not seek to turn our footballers into politicians, that they should not feel compelled to be spokesmen for matters beyond the field.
All this is true. It would just be nice to think that one of them, just once, actually wanted to speak up.
ANTONIO SHOULD PAUSE TV CAREER
Michail Antonio improved West Ham greatly when he came on as a substitute at Manchester United eight days ago. His pace and direct running unsettled the United defence and in the end West Ham were unlucky to lose.
But they did lose and that is why Antonio’s decision to then appear on Match of the Day 2 that evening was interesting.
Antonio will be 33 in March so it is hard to blame him for looking at alternative careers beyond the game. There is also no suggestion his commitment to West Ham has waned in any way.
Nevertheless, West Ham are not having a great season and Antonio is not always in David Moyes’ team. There is an argument, then, to suggest the TV studio should maybe wait a little while.
Michail Antonio’s appearance on Match of the Day after West Ham’s loss was surprising
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