Comparing Gareth Southgate’s first England XI to the team v Croatia

Quick Reads

Gareth Southgate has made himself a national hero since becoming England manager – and a lot has changed under his guidance.

England have reached a World Cup semi-final and topped an extremely tough Nations League group under Southgate, who has introduced a host of fresh faces while phasing out some experienced names.

We’ve looked back at his first starting XI, selected for a 2-0 victory over Malta in October 2016, to compare it to the side which beat Croatia 2-1 at the weekend.

Joe Hart – Jordan Pickford

It seems strange to think that Hart, fresh from Euro 2016 humiliation and being outcast by Manchester City, was still England’s No.1 upon Southgate’s appointment and for much of World Cup qualification.

After being dropped on loan at West Ham, Hart eventually lost his place and remains out of the picture despite somewhat revitalising himself at Burnley.

His decline, however, has opened the door for Pickford to establish himself as Southgate’s undisputed first choice. He’s a bit mental, and we love him.

READ: Jordan Pickford’s brilliant career in quotes: ‘It was clear he was special’

Kyle Walker – Kyle Walker

Despite being one of only two players to start against Malta and Croatia, Walker’s role in the England side under Southgate has still evolved.

When the Three Lions deploy a back four, the Manchester City man appears first-choice right-back, although he doesn’t seem to quite fit the bill for Southgate as a wing-back, instead moving inside as one of three centre-halves.

John Stones – John Stones

Walker’s City team-mate Stones is the only other player to appear in both games.

If he’s good enough for Pep, he’s good enough for us.

Gary Cahill – Joe Gomez

Cahill has been one of the senior players slowly eased out of the reckoning by Southgate, effectively retiring from international football after finding himself on the periphery for both club and country.

Gomez, meanwhile, is at the other end of the spectrum, benefitting from Southgate’s eagerness to promote young players. Were it not for an untimely injury, the Liverpool youngster would have been in Russia.

READ: The six stages of Joe Gomez’s rise: ‘At the age of 17 he had everything’

Ryan Bertrand – Ben Chilwell

A goalscorer under Southgate no less, Bertrand was unlucky to miss out on the final World Cup after featuring prominently in qualifying, while his prospects since have not been aided by Southampton’s struggles.

Left-back has become something of a problem position. With Danny Rose and Luke Shaw struggling to stay fit and Ashley Young’s bones starting to creak, Chilwell has been handed a chance and impressed in starting England’s last four matches.

Jordan Henderson – Eric Dier

Henderson anchored the midfield against Malta and did so during the World Cup, only to miss out in recent fixtures due to suspension and fitness issues, allowing Dier to take his place.

Like choosing between a Chomp and a Fudge, it’s an argument we really can’t be arsed to get involved with.

Dele Alli – Ross Barkley

Alli scored England’s second against Malta and has been a favourite throughout Southgate’s tenure but now faces plenty of competition for his place on the side, having to settle for a place on the bench against Croatia.

Barkley was the man to take Alli’s place and is enjoying a rejuvenation under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea which has bolstered his international chances.

Wayne Rooney – Fabian Delph

Whatever you think about Rooney’s cameo against the USA (another argument you can file under ‘not arsed either way’ for us), Southgate deserves plenty of credit for the way he quietly and efficiently moved Rooney out of England reckoning.

Whatever you think about Delph being a regular in Southgate’s squad despite struggling for first-team minutes at Manchester City, surely the World Cup proved the side needs as many northerners as possible to have the best chance of succeeding?

Theo Walcott – Raheem Sterling

Theo Walcott, f*cking hell. The forward played just twice more for England before being dropped from the squad on his 28th birthday, with Southgate admitting: “I’ve got to say he wasn’t chuffed to bits to get the call.”

Sterling, on the other hand, is Gaz’s guy, and that goal against Spain still makes us happy.

Daniel Sturridge – Harry Kane

Sturridge scored the first goal of Southgate’s reign with the opener against Malta and followed that up with another against Scotland the following month, but his last cap came over a year ago.

Kane is England’s undisputed first-choice striker and captain. A World Cup Golden Boot award and 20 goals in 35 caps means it’s probably justified.

Jesse Lingard – Marcus Rashford

Lingard started in attack against Malta and it was a role he returned to recently against the USA, but he has often been used in central midfield, most notably during the World Cup.

Rashford’s modus operandi in this England side appears to be to get the ball and run, which seems to be working quite well.

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