Striker Watkins recalled to England squad

6 months ago 126
VAR: England manager Southgate says 'we should accept referees' decisions'

England manager Gareth Southgate has recalled Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins for October's games against Australia and Italy at Wembley.

Watkins, who last featured for England in March 2022, continued his impressive start to the season with a hat-trick against Brighton on Saturday.

Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling is left out of a fourth successive squad.

West Ham forward Jarrod Bowen returns after missing out on September's fixtures against Ukraine and Scotland.

England play Australia in a friendly on 13 October and Italy in a Euro 2024 qualifier on 17 October.

Watkins, 27, said he did not think he could "do any more" to earn a recall after taking his tally to seven goals and three assists in 11 games this season.

"Ollie has started the season well, he's hit a bit of scoring form in the last couple of weeks," Southgate said.

"You have to be careful with that because you can't just go on recency bias with selection.

"But he is in good form and obviously coming in on a high and he's been with us before so we know his character, his personality. He is a good guy around the group."

Bukayo Saka, also included, is "still being assessed" after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta described the winger's latest injury - a muscular problem which forced him off after 34 minutes against Lens on Tuesday - as "a worry".

England's perfect Euro 2024 qualifying record was ended by a 1-1 draw with Ukraine in September, which they followed with a 3-1 friendly win over Scotland.

Having received their first call-ups to the England squad for September's fixtures, Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah and Chelsea centre-back Levi Colwill are both named again.

Jordan Henderson, picked after leaving Liverpool to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Ettifaq in July, also retains his place in Southgate's squad, as does Manchester United centre-back Harry Maguire. He made his first start of the season in a 3-0 Carabao Cup victory over Crystal Palace on 26 September.

England beat Italy 2-1 in Naples on the opening matchday in March and have the opportunity to strengthen their position at the top of Group C.

Southgate's side are six points clear, although second-placed Italy have played one game fewer.

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England squad

Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone, Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale

Defenders: Levi Colwill, Lewis Dunk, Marc Guehi, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Fikayo Tomori, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Trent Alexander-Arnold

Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice

Forwards: Jarrod Bowen, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, James Maddison, Eddie Nketiah, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Ollie Watkins

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'Players unfortunate to miss out'

Like Watkins, Bowen has been rewarded for a strong start to the 2023-24 season in which he has scored five times in seven Premier League games.

Southgate said he and his staff were "happy with the wide players' performances in the last four games" - a feeling that has contributed to the decision to again omit Sterling.

"The team are playing really well and clearly there's some stability there," Southgate said.

"We have added Jarrod Bowen in those wide areas, he's playing really well. With the Australia game there's the opportunity to learn some different things as well."

Bowen's West Ham team-mate James Ward-Prowse did not make the cut.

Asked about the decision to leave Ward-Prowse and Sterling out, Southgate said: "Some have had better spells than others and there's different competition for places.

"They find themselves unfortunate not to be with us at the moment, they just have to keep playing well.

"Perseverance is a crucial thing in sport."

'VAR was never going to resolve every issue'

Southgate also gave his perspective on the video assistant referee controversy that saw Liverpool wrongly denied a goal against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he wants the Premier League game to be replayed - but BBC Sport understands there is no prospect of league bosses considering that option.

Referencing Jesse Lingard's disallowed goal in the 2019 Nations League semi-finals when discussing his opinion, the England boss said he was not in favour of the technology.

"I wasn't for it. And I'm still not sure if the Jesse Lingard goal that knocked us out of the semi-final was legit or not," Southgate said.

"I don't like it. I think we should just accept referees' decisions, but we know we are unlikely to go back to a world where we don't have technology as part of that decision-making process.

"It was never going to resolve every issue and I don't think there is any solution that will achieve that."

Analysis

Phil McNulty, BBC Sport chief football writer

Ollie Watkins and Jarrod Bowen are the standout selections in Gareth Southgate's England squad and it is a fully deserved reward for the pair.

The 27-year-old Aston Villa striker has been rejuvenated since the appointment of Unai Emery as his manager at club level and has been in outstanding form this season.

Villa are in talks to tie Watkins down to a new contract and he showed exactly why with a hat-trick in last weekend's 6-1 win over Brighton at Villa Park.

It brought his tally to seven goals this season and he will hope to use the friendly against Australia and the Euro 2024 qualifier against Italy, both at Wembley, to press his claims for next summer's showpiece in Germany.

The same applies to Bowen, a consistently outstanding performer for West Ham United, and his selection will be welcomed by his many admirers.

Once again, there is no place for Chelsea's Raheem Sterling, who currently seems on the margins of Southgate's plans - although it will be interesting to see if that changes in the event of Arsenal's Bukayo Saka being ruled out. He is a major doubt after limping out of Arsenal's Champions League defeat to Lens with a hamstring injury.

There was never any doubt about the inclusion of Manchester United defender Harry Maguire, despite his lack of action and his own goal in the friendly against Scotland at Hampden Park.

Southgate has reiterated his support for Maguire, who has served him well, so he is likely to be first choice again against Italy.

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