Here are our winners and losers from England’s encounters with Australia and Italy over the October international break.
Winner: Ollie Watkins
Harry Kane is the undisputed number 9 in the England squad, and he will be for a while yet. But the battle to be the Bayern Munich striker’s understudy is fiercely competitive.
Ollie Watkins has given himself every chance of winning that battle ahead of Euro 2024 after scoring the winner against Australia last week. It was a tepid affair, but the Aston Villa forward marked his first England cap in almost 19 months with his third goal for his country.
Coupled with his excellent recent club form, Watkins’ performance has pulled him ahead of Newcastle’s Callum Wilson, who missed this international break with injury, the suspended Ivan Toney of Brentford, and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah.
Loser: Jordan Henderson
Getting booed by your own fans is never nice, but few are particularly sympathetic to Jordan Henderson’s plight, if you could call it that.
The midfielder was deemed a hypocrite for leaving Liverpool to join the exodus to the Saudi Pro League, after previously identifying as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Any goodwill towards the 32-year-old was shattered by the decision to take his talents to the Gulf.
But that’s not the only, and perhaps not even the main reason Henderson has been on the receiving end of jeers from England supporters; there is a distinct feeling that he is undeserving of his place.
Even before his Anfield exit, the Sunderland native was deemed to be well past his best following a poor campaign, and now he’s being preferred to better midfield options despite playing in a third-rate league because he’s one of Gareth Southgate’s ol’ reliables.
Henderson’s stock has never been lower.
Winner: Jude Bellingham
We are getting to a point where new superlatives will need to be invented to describe just how good Jude Bellingham is after he put in yet another superb performance, dictating from midfield on Tuesday night.
“With the big transfer [to Real Madrid] the fact is I have to deliver, whether it is a goal or assist or a match-winning performance,” Bellingham said after the game. “This is the club I want to be at for the next 10-15 years of my life. I am loving it there.”
The Birmingham native was already one of the brightest talents in world football before his move to Real Madrid, where he has scored 10 goals in 10 games, but is reaching new heights at his new club.
“When you are around those mentalities and quality of players every day… it takes you to a new level mentally, physically and technically,” he added.
— Channel 4 Sport (@C4Sport) October 17, 2023
Loser: Kalvin Phillips
Arguably England’s top performing midfielder at Euro 2020, Kalvin Phillips’ downfall has been hard and swift since swapping Leeds United for Man City.
Injuries have played a huge part in that, but even when he’s been fit gametime is rare; he’s started just twice in the Premier League since the beginning of last season.
That should disqualify almost anyone from featuring in the England team, let alone starting in an important qualifier against the toughest opponents in the group.
And yet, Phillips started alongside Declan Rice anyway, but looked very rusty before being hauled off in the 70th minute. He says Southgate has warned him he needs to be playing at club level to retain his spot, which is surely the bare minimum requirement.
Winner: James Ward-Prowse
Speaking of midfielders, James Ward-Prowse’s stock rose over the international break, and he didn’t even get a call-up from Southgate.
The West Ham man has arguably been in the best form of his career since joining the club from Southampton in the summer, but that wasn’t enough to convince the manager he deserves an opportunity to add to his 11 caps.
Perhaps the sight of Henderson and Phillips struggling to make an impact this past week will be. But we’re not holding our breaths.
Loser: Gareth Southgate
England came out of the international break with two wins and qualification for Euro 2024 all sewn up. This should be one of Southgate’s best weeks in the job, but he warrants scrutiny.
There’s the usual complaints from far and wide about his squad selection, which are often tiresome; nobody is ever 100 percent happy no matter who is in the team, because there’s always someone who has been unjustly omitted in their minds.
Yet it is nonetheless mind boggling that Southgate persists with Harry Maguire in central defence and Henderson in midfield when better options evidently exist. He is likely to persist with them through to the Euros, even if one is barely playing week to week and the other is featuring in a league no one takes remotely seriously.
More pertinently, Southgate’s act of pretending he didn’t understand why Henderson received jeers was laughable. He said “it defies logic” to boo the player, but, for the reasons mentioned earlier in this piece, it’s plainly obvious.
The usually considerate manager came across as thoughtless.