Ivan Toney has been rewarded for his excellent Brentford form with a first call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad. The centre-forward is the newest face in a selection that also includes Eric Dier, who is picked for the first time since March 2021.
England will play Nations League ties against Italy in Milan on 23 September and Germany at Wembley three days later. They have started their campaign poorly with two defeats and two draws but the competition for World Cup places adds an extra level of jeopardy for those involved. In particular the inclusion of Toney, whose five top-flight goals this season include a hat-trick against Leeds this month, changes the complexion of the battle to travel as Harry Kane’s understudy.
Tammy Abraham, who keeps his place in a 28-strong squad, was subdued when given his chance in the home draw with Italy three months ago while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is injured and Ollie Watkins has faded from the picture. It means Toney, who scored 12 times in his first Premier League campaign last season, can stake a strong claim for Qatar 2022 if he impresses in the next fortnight.
“We have been tracking him for a long time,” Southgate said of Toney. “I had a good chat with Thomas Frank about him last season. His form and his qualities – not only his goalscoring but his technical ability, buildup play and aerial prowess – give us a different threat to some of the other players we could pick.”
Another forward, Marcus Rashford, has had his hopes of a recall ended by a muscle injury. He faces a race against time to win back a place in the affections of Southgate, who left him out last season; his Manchester United teammate Jadon Sancho also misses out despite an improvement in form. Southgate was at pains to say Rashford has shown “encouraging signs” recently and offered hope of a comeback if the trend continues.
Dier’s return comes after a run of impressive performances for Spurs under Antonio Conte. Southgate had explained in May that the centre-back’s qualities were already known and he wished to explore younger alternatives. “He has been playing well for a period of time,” Southgate said.
“We think it is a really close call across our centre-backs and he has deserved to be picked back in the group. We know what a good character he is. He fits in with the culture and has great international experience and leadership qualities.”
Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi keep their places in the squad while Ben White misses out. Jordan Henderson’s hamstring injury rules the Liverpool player out of a potential return in midfield. James Justin and Conor Gallagher, who have endured mixed starts to the season, are dropped but the fit-again left-backs Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell return. Trent Alexander-Arnold, who was released early from the June fixtures after an extended season with Liverpool, also makes the cut.
Southgate admitted it was a concern that players such as Shaw, Chilwell, Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips have been short of competitive action for their clubs. “It is not ideal, he said. “But we feel they have been, and can be, important players for us. It is not a perfect situation but there is still a lot of football to be played before Qatar.”
Dean Henderson, who won his sole cap in November 2020, is the beneficiary of Jordan Pickford’s injury. The Nottingham Forest keeper, on loan from Manchester United, joins Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope in contention for the No 1 jersey.