Gareth Southgate speaks about new inclusions and returning faces to his England squad

Thursday 18 Mar 2021
John Stones is back in Gareth Southgate's England squad for March's European Qualifiers

Gareth Southgate has spoken about his decision to pick two new names in his squad for March’s internationals, as well as welcome back some familiar faces.

The Three Lions start their road to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar with games against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Southgate has picked a 26-strong squad for the three games, including maiden call-ups for Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins and West Brom’s Sam Johnstone.

Watkins has scored ten goals so far in his first season in the Premier League after joining Villa from Brentford last summer.

And the manager believes he’s done enough to earn a chance within his squad as they turn their attentions towards this summer’s EURO 2020 Finals.

"We think this is an opportunity for us to work with Ollie,” said Southgate.

"At the moment, Tammy [Abraham] hasn't appeared for Chelsea for a little while and Danny Ings, who has been with us, is injured.

"But Ollie and Patrick Bamford have been in that sort of company in terms of goals scored and both had good seasons so it was a close call.

Ollie Watkins will link up with the Three Lions squad for the first time

"We've got Dominic [Calvert-Lewin] and Harry [Kane] that we're very happy with. But we don't know what's going to happen further down the line so it's good for us to get an understanding of Ollie as a player a little bit closer up and for him to see how we work. Hopefully he can push on from the season he's had already."

For Johnstone, it's a return to the England set-up for the first time since 2013, when he was in the initial MU21s age group which Southgate took charge of following his appointment as Young Lions head coach.

His performances for West Bromwich Albion have catapulted him back into contention again, with the absence of Jordan Pickford this month providing new opportunities for all three goalkeepers in the squad.

Sam Johnstone's performances for the Baggies have earned him a first England senior call

"I've not worked with Sam since I was in with the U21s and he's now had several seasons of league football under his belt," said Southgate.

"You know there are some goalkeepers who were close again, some close calls. Karl Darlow has had a very good season with Newcastle and has probably found himself out of the team at just the wrong time.

"So Sam, although the club have had a difficult season, has maintained a good level of performance and it's a good opportunity for him and it's a good opportunity for Dean [Henderson] and for Nick [Pope], with Jordan not being here this time."

The squad also sees a return to the international fold for three players in Luke Shaw, John Stones and Jesse Lingard, who have fought their way back into contention after strong campaigns with their clubs.

"They’ve earned the opportunity and they have all had difficult times and they've had to work hard to establish themselves back in the teams at club level,” explained Southgate.

"All slightly different situations too, but we've never had any doubt that the three boys are good players.

"We've tried to pick Luke on several occasions and he hasn't been fit, but he's had a real period of consistency with Manchester United and I think he's been outstanding.

"John is the same with [Manchester] City – he's put consistent performances together and, of course, those two teams are top of the league, so they've both played a big part in some very good defences.

Jesse Lingard is a player which Southgate is familiar with, having worked with him at MU21 and senior level since 2013

"Of course, Jesse is a player we know a lot about. It's probably a bit earlier in terms of, you know, has he earned the right?

"He's only been back in the team at West Ham for a short period, but he's played extremely well and we’ve got players missing in that area of the pitch who at this point might have been just ahead of him.

"But it's a great opportunity for him and we have a lot of belief in Jesse. We know what a good player he is.

"He's played well for England whenever he's played and it's good to see him back playing at club level with a smile on his face.”

The squad will meet up on Monday to begin work ahead of the first game against San Marino at Wembley on Thursday 25 March. After that, they head to Albania on Sunday 28 March before the month ends against Poland at Wembley on Wednesday 31 March.

By FA Staff