What the Uefa Nations League could tell us about England’s World Cup hopes.

05.06.2022 11:25:13 Adam England
England flag with fans celebrating
  •  The 2022-23 UEFA Nations League kicked off on 1 June as Poland beat Wales 2-1
  •  England to face Hungary again and Germany and Italy once apiece in Group A3 before their remaining matches against Italy and Germany in September
  •  Manager Gareth Southgate made a number of changes from the previous squad with James Justin and Jarrod Bowen making debuts.
  •  Defeat to Hungary was disappointing. Strong showings against Germany and Italy will indicate where England stand going into the World Cup in December.

 

It doesn’t feel too long since the last season of the UEFA Nations League finished. France beat Spain 2-1 in the final in October 2021 coming from behind thanks to goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe. The relegation play-outs followed in March, but now the new season is upon us. 

England, third place in the inaugural 2018-19 season, remain in League A and after a good few years under manager Gareth Southgate, remain among the favourites to win. It was never going to be easy being in Group A3 alongside Euro 2020 final foes Italy and Germany, even more so given what they cobbled together against Hungary. Whatever happens, these next two matches will be a good indicator of what we might be able to expect from the Three Lions in the World Cup this December. 

 

Familiar foes for England

England began with a game against Hungary on 4 June before playing Germany on 7 June, and then face Italy on 11 June. Another match-up with Hungary on 14 June follows. England currently sit fifth in the FIFA World Rankings, with Italy one place below, and Germany in 12th place, but neither opponent can be taken lightly. Hungary are down in 40th place but caused a flat England problems. Southgate’s side looked fatigued after a long season and were given a clear demonstration that they won’t be able to coast through any of these games.

It’s almost freakish that Italy aren’t going to the World Cup for the second time in a row and even more odd is the fact that they won Euro 2020 in between the two tournaments. Despite this anomaly, they remain a very good team packed with talent. With England looking for revenge after the heartbreaking defeat in the final a year ago, it could make for a spicy encounter.

Taking UEFA teams out of the equation an England side on top form should feel fairly confident of beating any national side in the world, Brazil and Argentina aside. Their World Cup group won’t be a stroll in the park. The US in particular could impress, but it would be a major shock should England not progress and an equally big surprise were they not to top the group. 

The order of the day must be to recover and regroup after Hungary, beat Italy and go on to beat Germany in September, as they did en route to the final of the Euros last summer. A solid showing from here on in, will reinforce their status as a force to be reckoned with in Qatar 2022

 

Changes in the England squad

We should also get an idea of who Southgate might choose in his squad for Qatar, and who could be in line for a starting berth, after the Nations League fixtures. The likes of Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, Manchester United’s Luke Shaw, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, and Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell were all left out of this squad and as a result there are places for some of the less-capped options at Southgate’s disposal. 

A debate often had is over who should start as England’s number one. Jordan Pickford with 44 caps under his belt hasn’t had the best of times at club level this term as Everton only narrowly avoided relegation. That said he certainly wasn’t among the worst performers at the club. Whilst he has seldom put a foot wrong for EnglandArsenal's Aaron Ramsdale will be hoping to challenge him for a starting role. With just one cap to his name thus far in his England career, the 24-year-old will be looking for an opportunity in the next couple of weeks.  

Then there’s the former Chelsea duo Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham. Both have earned England recalls after impressive seasons over in Italy, Tomori winning Serie A with AC Milan and Abraham winning the Europa Conference League with Roma. Both still 24, they’ll want to give Southgate a real selection headache. Jarrod Bowen will be hoping for another chance after such an impressive season for the Hammers. Making his debut in this game wasn’t ideal, but he was probably England’s best player on what was a poor day for the 3 Lions. 20-year-old Conor Gallagher is also in the reckoning after a good season on loan with Crystal Palace. Leicester City’s James Justin had given Southgate yet more food for thought, but his game against Hungary would be undermined by an early exit due to injury. 

And then there’s Jude Bellingham. Still only 18, he’s played over 100 competitive professional games for club and country and there’s plenty of social media clamour for him to get a starting role in Qatar. He might be young, but at this point is he just too good to leave out? 

Who are the guaranteed starters for England at the time of writing? Harry Kane and Declan Rice surely, and more than likely Harry Maguire and John Stones, despite the former’s travails at club level in the past couple of seasons. Southgate still has riches to choose from at right-back, to the point where even a talent like Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey is exploring switching to Ghana for more international opportunities. At left-back it’s between Shaw and Chilwell, though both missed out this time.

The current squad is not the strongest possible, with the likes of Shaw, Chilwell and Henderson not featuring. Given this, there’s only so much that we can read into it. The hope is that after an initial setback it will represent a great opportunity for players to rise in the pecking order. Can Tammy Abraham for example, grab a goal or two to prove he is a better option than the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Ollie Watkins? There are more questions than answers at the moment with regards to the team we might expect in Qatar which is only natural. All eyes on the remaining games in the Uefa Nations League to determine whether England can be labelled as true contenders to lift the World Cup in December.

 

 

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