After the England squad was announced last week, the Three Lions take to the field at Wembley Stadium in their third match of the UEFA European Qualifiers.
Sitting at the top of Group A after two matches played, Gareth Southgate will want to ensure his qualification into next year’s tournament is secured as early as possible.
With that being said, it might have come to some surprise that James Maddison and Mason Mount have been removed from the England U-21 squad and brought into the senior squad.
Maddison nor Mount have made their international debuts for the Three Lions but are in contention to change those fortunes against Bulgaria on Saturday evening.
Both players are attacking midfielders, although Maddison, 22, has more experience playing slightly deeper or on the left-hand side as he has for Leicester City under Brendan Rodgers. With four games played in the Premier League, the former Norwich City player has already notched up two assists.
What is so impressive about Maddison is his ability to read the game played out in front of him and directly affect it with either his goal-scoring attributes or his execution of the final pass. There are players with an innate ability to take the ball with their back to goal, turn on a sixpence and put the attacker through on goal within a flash, with Maddison being one of them.
Mount, on the other hand, is more of a goal-scoring midfielder, similar to Dele Alli. Again, just as Maddison has been used in a variety of positions, the 20-year-old has been deployed by Frank Lampard through the middle or on the left.
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In his four appearances in the league so far, Mount has scored twice and could have had more. Chelsea’s campaign is likely to be turbulent this season, but it is clear that the Englishman will be a mainstay in Lampard’s team and be expected to deliver week in, week out.
With Southgate opting for a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation, it is crucial to have a player who can impact the game in midfield like Maddison and Mount can. Both players are familiar with the system given how common it is, and both are now proven at senior level to be able to slot in different roles within it and make a difference.
It is fair to say that England have struggled in recent years to produce number 10s that can cause problems for other teams, especially when weaker teams sit back and deploy the low-block system.
The Three Lions have missed the type of player to weave in-and-out of space and quickly threat a ball into the forward’s path for a number of tournaments. And so, when around the edge of the box, the imagination disappears to unlock what is in front of them and the attack stifles out.
In Southgate’s squad, either Mount or Maddison can be trusted to become the connectors between the midfield and attack, which is a blessing for the England boss to have two highly-rated options.
However, with Mount and Maddison ready to take their chances, as well as what they have produced so far in the Premier League, England should be better equipped to handle countries such as Bulgaria and Kosovo when they come to Wembley and attempt to slow the game down.
With these youth selections from Southgate, it shows a progressive approach in how he sees England over the next 12 months and heading into a tournament that they should be contending.
It is not common for a head coach to be brave in picking youth players who are not the finished article, but the confidence from Southgate in sticking by them will resonate throughout the squad.
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