Will Southgate go for continuity or change with England after Keane call-up?
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | October 4, 2016
Michael Keane call-up a sign of change?
At least someone fresh in Burnley defender Michael Keane got a late call-up to the England squad, as caretaker boss Gareth Southgate takes charge for the first time ahead of a home match with Malta on Saturday, October 8th.
One of two centre backs, alongside Middlesbrough’s Ben Gibson, linked with joining the senior setup after being used regularly by Southgate for the Under-21s, Keane brings a set-piece threat from the heart of the Turf Moor rearguard.
We’ve seen first-time call-ups before, though, and being drafted in doesn’t necessarily mean Southgate will be prepared to blood Keane, even with England overwhelming odds-on 1/100 favourites with Coral to beat Malta and value at 9/4 to win with a -5 handicap.
Dare to debut?
Keane is one of three uncapped players on the revised Three Lions roster; the others being West Ham United winger Michail Antonio and Manchester United counterpart Jesse Lingard.
Minnows Malta at Wembley looks the perfect place to assess new options, and Southgate certainly talked enthusiastically about giving some inexperienced international players the nod.
“We have an opportunity to work with young players who need guidance,” the England boss said in his first press conference since getting the gig, after Sam Allardyce stood down.
Man Utd kids impressing
Of Lingard, an 11/10 chance to make a goalscoring debut for England, Southgate added: “Jesse is a player we were impressed with in the Under-21s. He is establishing himself in Jose’s [Mourinho] team, which speaks volumes for the level he is hitting. It is an exciting moment to bring him in.”
Southgate also praised Old Trafford cohort Marcus Rashford, who hit a hat-trick on his only Under-21 appearance in September, and is 13/10 to net two or more now he’s back in the senior setup.
“He was outstanding for us last month,” Southgate said of Rashford. “You can all see his ability but what impressed me most was his mentality. He was still the youngest in the Under-21 squad but took to that no problem at all.”
Rooney “outstanding leader in the group”
Yet for all these encouraging signs, Southgate is retaining Wayne Rooney as captain, and there are just four central midfield options including him in the squad.
Eric Dier is the only natural holding player, while Tottenham teammate Dele Alli and Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson offer more of a box-to-box threat.
Stressing the importance of “leadership both on and off the field”, Southgate feels Rooney is “the outstanding leader in the group”, so he should stay in the XI despite being dropped by Man Utd.
As Keane a defender as anymore
Clarets player Keane has kept as many Premier League clean sheets as Chelsea counterpart and England vice-captain Gary Cahill, who is set to up rack up his half-century of caps, plus Man Utd’s Chris Smalling and Everton elder statesman Phil Jagielka. All have two shut-outs apiece.
That stat is most impressive because Keane’s club are a newly promoted side, with the other centre back options open to Southgate all playing for elite top-flight clubs.
Highly-rated John Stones just has the one Premier League clean sheet since joining Manchester City, but can boast three more from Champions League play-offs and group stage action.
Keane too was the subject of a big money bid this summer – in relative terms to Burnley – with champions Leicester City offering a reported £15m to take him. Sean Dyche sticking to his guns and the Clarets board turning that approach down appears to have worked out with international recognition.
Whether that will yield caps remains to be seen. The only way we’ll know for sure how bold Southgate is prepared to be is when we get the teamsheet to face Malta.
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