Ollie Watkins pushing for inclusion as Gareth Southgate names England squad
Ollie Watkins will be hoping for an England recall when boss Gareth Southgate names his first squad since the World Cup on Thursday.
Southgate opted to carry on in his role after England’s quarter-final defeat to France in Qatar before Christmas and will lead the country into Euro 2024 next summer, with qualifying getting under way later this month.
Watkins could be named in the squad to play Italy and Ukraine following his outstanding form for Aston Villa, while Chelsea duo Reece James and Ben Chilwell may return after they missed the World Cup through injury.
Watkins, who has won seven caps, was not part of the squad that went to the Middle East, but having scored six goals in his last seven games, it will be difficult for Southgate to ignore him, especially with other issues in attack.
Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who was also left out of the World Cup squad, may miss out again as the Football Association disciplinary case for breaching betting rules hangs over him.
The 26-year-old, whose 16 goals make him the second-highest scoring Englishman in the Premier League this season behind Harry Kane, was watched by Southgate during the Bees’ 1-0 defeat at Everton on Saturday, but it remains to be seen whether he gets the nod.
Callum Wilson did go to Qatar and impressed in a cameo role, but has scored just one goal in 13 games for Newcastle since the domestic season resumed.
Jadon Sancho may also be in contention for a recall after a spell out of the reckoning.
The Manchester United winger has only featured once for England since the Euro 2020 final and was not part of Southgate’s plans for the World Cup.
Sancho also had a spell away from club football before Christmas as he was “not in the right status or fitness state” but returned at the start of February and has been a part of the United side that won the Carabao Cup and is on the brink of reaching the Europa League quarter-finals.
Elsewhere, James Maddison will be hoping to still be in favour, while eyes will be on whether Arsenal defender Ben White, who is having a fine season for the Gunners, is included after leaving the World Cup camp early for “personal reasons”.
Back at a sold-out @wembleystadium in two weeks! 🏟
Gareth Southgate on the #ThreeLions' first home game of 2023 against Ukraine: pic.twitter.com/7IlcIgacdU
— England (@England) March 12, 2023
On whether there was any issue for White, Gunners boss Mikel Arteta said: “As far as I am concerned, no. He has been in very good form, available for every single match and has been performing well for us.
“He is available for us so for sure he will be available for the England squad.”
Southgate could also look to give some fresh faces a chance, with Nottingham Forest forward Morgan Gibbs-White, who Southgate is a known admirer of, and Liverpool’s Harvey Elliott both possible inclusions.
Forest boss Steve Cooper said of Gibbs-White: “I don’t know if he will be selected. He’s doing really well, the exciting bit is that he still has so much to go.
“It’s not a developmental period but it is a first experience of being a regular Premier League player, he’s relished the challenge.
“I know it’s an ambition for him, having been in the system with him along the way, and if that is a motivation he knows to do that he has to keep going and improving at club level at Nottingham Forest.”
England begin their Group C campaign when they visit Italy on March 23, with Ukraine travelling to Wembley three days later.