Ivan Toney has been rewarded for his excellent form at Brentford with a first call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad. The centre-forward is the newest face in a squad that also includes Eric Dier, who is picked for the first time since March 2021.
England will play their Nations League games against Italy in Milan on September 23 and Germany at Wembley three days later. They have made a poor start to their campaign with two defeats and two draws, but the competition for World Cup places adds an extra level of danger for those involved. In particular, the inclusion of Toney, whose five goals this season include a hat-trick against Leeds this month, changes the complexion of the battle to travel as Harry Kane’s replacement.
Tammy Abraham, who retains his place in a 28-man squad, was held back when given his chance in the home draw with Italy three months ago, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is injured and Ollie Watkins has faded of the image. That means Toney, who scored 12 goals in his first Premier League campaign last season, can stake a strong claim for Qatar 2022 if he impresses in the next fortnight.
“We’ve followed him for a long time,” Southgate said of Toney. “I had a good chat with Thomas Frank about him last season. His form and his qualities, not just his goals but his technical ability, his play and his aerial prowess, give us a different threat for some of the other players we could pick.”
Another striker, Marcus Rashford, has had his hopes of a recall ended with a muscle injury. He faces a race against time to regain a place in the affections of Southgate, who left him out last season; his Manchester United teammate Jadon Sancho is also missing despite an improvement in form. Southgate was at pains to say Rashford has shown “encouraging signs” recently and offered hope of a return if the trend continues.
Dier’s return comes after a string of impressive performances for Spurs under Antonio Conte. Southgate had explained in May that the centre-back’s qualities were already known and that he wanted to explore younger alternatives. “He’s been playing well for a period of time,” Southgate said.
“We believe it is a call-up very close to our centrals and he deserved to be picked up in the group. We know what a good character he is. He fits the culture and has great international experience and leadership qualities.”
Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi keep their place in the squad while Ben White misses out. Jordan Henderson’s hamstring injury rules out the Liverpool player’s possible return to midfield. James Justin and Conor Gallagher, who have suffered mixed starts to the season, are dropped, but left-backs Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell return. Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was released at the start of June’s games after an extended spell with Liverpool, also makes the cut.
Southgate admitted it was a concern that the likes of Shaw, Chilwell, Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips have not been able to compete for their clubs. “It’s not ideal, he said. “But we think they have been and can be important players for us. It’s not a perfect situation, but there’s still a lot of football to be played before Qatar.”
Dean Henderson, who won his only cap in November 2020, is the beneficiary of Jordan Pickford’s injury. The Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, on loan from Manchester United, joins Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope in the race for the No.1 shirt.
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