Games against Germany and Lithuania will give the England players a chance to impress their new manager, with the two games posing very different challenges but both offering opportunities.
Gareth Southgate’s first England squad was greeted with little more than a disinterested shrug from all but the most fanatical Three Lions supporters, but there were some interesting elements to the new boss’ selection: the inclusion of Jermain Defoe; the decision to omit Wayne Rooney (despite the former England captain saying he would be available for selection); the snub of Theo Walcott; and the call-ups for Jake Livermore, James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond.
Those decisions will have proven to the players that Southgate is his own man, not one who’s going to allow the tedious status quo to continue with more staid squad selections.
And Southgate’s decisiveness will have also told the fringe players that this international break is an opportunity to stake a case for an unexpected regular spot in the squad. Perform well when given the chance and they will likely get another.
So, with that in mind, the next two games are a big opportunity for a number of players – with three who should be particularly desperate to take this chance to shine.
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The headline name in Gareth Southgate’s first squad as full England manager was Defoe – the 34-year-old who had spent over three years in the international wilderness. At first glance the selection of the Sunderland striker seemed like a sentimental one, rewarding him for his goalscoring exploits in domestic football with some short-term international recognition.
But, this could be more than just a curtain call for Defoe's England career.
A glance at the forward options available to England at present does not make pretty reading. There’s Harry Kane, who is the stand-out option for the No. 9 jersey, but behind him there’s little to encourage Southgate. Jamie Vardy lacks tactical nuance and blows hot and cold, Marcus Rashford is a talent but barely plays as a striker for his club, Daniel Sturridge looks a fraction of the player he used to be, and both Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll are so desperately injury prone that they would be a huge risk for a tournament squad unless they can solve their fitness issues.
And even if those players are all fit, none would really define themselves as a penalty-box finisher. None are the sort of striker you’d definitely want on the end of a chance deep in extra-time of a crucial tournament match. And that’s where Defoe comes in.
Granted he’s not likely to be England’s first-choice striker going forward (that mantle appears to be firmly in Kane's grasp). But every squad needs options, every manager needs match-winning alternatives to turn to on his bench. And Southgate has apparently identified exactly striking alternative he wants in his number. All Defoe has to do now is take this chance.
Read the full article on eurosport.co.uk: The Three England players who must impress Southgate