Since Gareth Southgate’s first major tournament at the FIFA World Cup last year four Manchester City players have repeatedly appeared on his call up sheet; Raheem Sterling, John Stones, Kyle Walker, and Fabian Delph.
Some have been relied on more than others, and there’s a case to be made whether some of them should have made the squad at all. They’ve all had varied experiences playing in sky blue this season, but that doesn’t necessarily dictate if they deserve a call up. So let’s take a look at the season the four City players have had and their recent performances for England to see what contribution they can make in bringing home to inaugural UEFA Nations League trophy.
It’s been amazing to watch Sterling finally find his form for England in recent games, and he’s coming off the back of another fantastic season for Manchester City. Scoring a goal nearly every two games; he’s been a massive contributor to City’s success across three competitions. Although his season seemed to slow down a tad toward the end, he came out of it winning both the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year and the PFA Young Player of the Year, receiving whatever praise was didn’t stick to the Virgil Van Dijk bandwagon.
Raheem has also shown his versatility, switching to predominantly playing on the left wing instead of the right, undoubtedly his best position only a year ago. Many of his goals for City have come from cutting in from the left to score with his right foot, which is a tactic England may too look to utilise with Jayden Sancho operating in a similar fashion on the right.
Many criticisms have been written about Raheem in recent years, whether it be his performances for England or his personal life, but he’s finally getting the respect and plaudits that he’s earned. It’s heart-warming as a City fan to see how he’s turned things around for England, proving the doubters wrong. With rumours that Sterling could captain England for the first time to mark his 50th cap, this could be the biggest game of his whole career. He may not be the archetypal captain, but after the incredible year he’s had for club and country, this would be the perfect culmination of a fantastic season for the 24-year-old.
Up until about four months ago Stones was a given amongst Man City fans for being a future captain. This topic has been coming up more and more in City Square, with it clear that Vincent Kompany would someday hang up his City boots. Now that time has come John Stones hasn’t really been part of the conversation.
After another solid start to the season, Stones began to feature less and less, being first replaced by Otamendi and later Kompany. This was similar last season following an injury, which has raised the question if Guardiola has real faith in Stones as the man to regularly partner Laporte. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had some memorable moments this season, not least the goal-line clearance against Liverpool – to which many credit him for winning City the league.
The difference with England I think is that there are less competition for places. Joe Gomez also hasn’t had a steady run of games after coming back from an injury, and Michael Keane doesn’t quite look up to the task just yet. Coming of the back of starting in City’s recent FA Cup thrashing of Watford, I think it’s very likely Stones will start alongside rumoured City target Harry Maguire in the centre of defence.
Unlike John Stones, Kyle Walker has plenty of competition when it comes to England. Trent Alexander-Arnold has had a fantastic season and it isn’t difficult to see him being an integral player for England in the coming years.
Fortunately for Walker, Trent has only just played in the Champions League final, so may not be likely to feature in England’s first match against the Netherlands. In the World Cup last summer Kieran Trippier was keeping Walker out his preferred right back position but now Walker can seize the opportunity and make it his own.
As right back for Man City Walker has had a bit of a rough ride resulting in him being briefly dropped mid-way through the season. He had fans infuriated at times and worried he might not find form again, but after a few games out of the team he recovered the form that earned him a spot in the 17/18 Premier League team of the season.
One of Walker’s best assets is his pace which has been vital for Man City at several points this season against teams aiming to hit the blues on the counter-attack. This will be needed against the threat of Depay against the Netherlands tonight, so we should hope Walker starts.
Not only has Delph rarely featured for Manchester City this season, he’s been far from impressive when he has. His last few memorable appearances have come in the FA Cup game against Swansea City where he gave away a penalty which almost cost his team the game, and in the Champions League Quarter Final away tie to Tottenham Hotspur; where his poor marking and defending against Heung-min Son did cost City the match, and in the end the tournament.
That may sound harsh but the statistics for Delph’s season don’t look good. Of the six games City have lost this season Delph has started in the five of them. You can’t put the blame solely down to his performances but it doesn’t look good, considering how heavily Guardiola relied on him last season.
So it may have come as a shock to most City fans when Delph was called up, but maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised. One positive attribute we have seen from him over his time at City is his willingness to voice his opinion and ralley the team, which could be something Southgate would be missing without him. Also, with Chillwell and Rose in the team, I doubt Delph would feature at left-back, but rather in centre midfield where he’s played on occasion for England recently.
It’s most likely that, from a Manchester City perspective, Raheem Sterling’s impact on the England team will be most visible in the next two matches. However, one influence that shouldn’t be understated is that of Pep Guardiola. You’d have to be mad not to see Pep’s style of play creep into this England side, slowly but surely. The cautious England side from the World Cup have become more ambitious, switching out the 5 3 2 formation for a 4 3 3. As we saw from the 5-0 win over the Czech Republic, this England team want to play out from the back, hold possession, and pass the ball around the opposition.
Who knows where the importance of the UEFA Nations League will land in history and even if the trophy only masks the pain of 53 years of hurt, here’s hoping we bring it home anyway!
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