Many people were surprised when Gareth Southgate named his England squad for the upcoming Nations League games, his final before the World Cup.

When the World Cup kicks off in November, everyone is supposedly looking forward to more talk of football “coming home,” with England among the favorites to win the tournament for the first time since 1966.

Although, the Three Lions’ Nations League campaign in 2022 has been a flop, with the team failing to win any of their four games in June.

A 1-0 loss in Hungary was followed by a draw in Germany thanks to a late Harry Kane penalty, before a dull 0-0 draw with Italy at Molineux and an abysmal performance in their 4-0 loss to Hungary at the same venue.

Three months after that humiliating defeat in Wolverhampton, manager Gareth Southgate named his squad for the final two Nations League games against Italy and Germany, and while there was a new face in Brentford striker Ivan Toney, it was mostly the same, with some notable absentees.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph in February, Southgate stated, “I’m very conscious I’ve got to get the balance right because ultimately my responsibility is to produce a winning England team.”

“I never pick based on reputation; form is everything; you have to look at the opposition and the type of game you’re expecting and pick the players who are best suited to that.”

It raised some eyebrows, then, when some players who had been subjectively out of form in the early weeks of the season, and who had been at the scene of the crime in previous disappointing England results, kept their places ahead of others who had stepped up their domestic game in recent weeks.

Stats Perform has looked at some of those who were fortunate to be called back and others who were unlucky to be left out of the final Three Lions squad before the World Cup.

“You have to have continuity,” England manager Gareth Southgate says of his team’s progress #TakeYourChance.

Who created it?

Luke Shaw and Harry McGuire

It makes sense to pair the two Manchester United defenders because the reasons for their continued international inclusion are essentially the same.

Maguire and Shaw took their fair share of the blame for United’s poor performances in recent years, and it culminated in a 4-0 defeat at Brentford in the second game of this season’s Premier League campaign, after already losing at home to Brighton and Hove Albion.

After that, new manager Erik ten Hag dropped both, and United have won four straight league games since.

Shaw has been reduced to substitute duty after losing his starting spot to young Dutchman Tyrell Malacia, and Maguire has been replaced by France centre-back Raphael Varane.

Maguire has only started one game in the last five, a 1-0 loss to Real Sociedad at home in the Europa League.

That’s not to say the two are solely to blame for their team’s lackluster performances, but it also doesn’t feel like a coincidence that Ten Hag’s men’s results improved immediately without them.

Jarrod Bowen

This may seem harsh given that Bowen was championed by everyone to be included on form last season, which he was, appearing in all four Nations League games in June.

However, after scoring 18 goals in 51 games across all competitions for West Ham last season, Bowen has only managed two in ten games this season, both of which have come in the Europa Conference League.

The Hammers have struggled for form this season, sitting in 18th place after seven games, so it would be unfair to blame Bowen, but he has also failed to make an impact in any of his England appearances.

The door should not be closed on an undeniably talented player, but his return to the national team after a noticeable drop in form at a time when others in his position are excelling seems strange.

Grealish, Jack

Grealish, arguably the most contentious player in England, will always feel too talented to be left out.

Contras to Paul Gascoigne may appear lazy, but it’s difficult not to when you see him at his best, capable of turning a game on his own if he finds that spark that almost all other players lack.

Grealish had a disappointing first season at Manchester City, with only 10 goal involvements (six goals, four assists) in 39 games.

Who got left out?

Ben White

To be honest, supporting an Arsenal defender is difficult because it’s unclear what position you’d be arguing for.

White did not impress at centre-back in his first season with Arsenal, but he has thrived at right-back in Mikel Arteta’s system so far this season.

If Southgate returns to his preferred three-at-the-back formation, White on the right would make sense, though Kyle Walker is likely to keep the shirt.

White, on the other hand, is constantly improving and has played a significant role in Arsenal winning six of their first seven Premier League games, and his versatility would be a plus.

James Maddison

Unlike the other three players on this list, Maddison is rarely seen in an England squad, despite his club output.

Despite being named to squads in the past, Maddison has only one cap, which came in November 2019 when he played 35 minutes against Montenegro.

Maddison, like Grealish, can be regarded as enigmatic, but his recent form for Leicester City speaks for itself.

Since the start of last season, he has been directly involved in 24 Premier League goals (15 goals, nine assists). The only English player with more appearances in this time is Harry Kane (33) who has three more than Maddison (44 to 41).

24 – Since the start of the 2021-22 season, James Maddison has been directly involved in 24 Premier League goals (15 goals, 9 assists); the only English player with more in this time is Harry Kane (32).

Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho

Since their United teammates were paired up, it makes sense to do the same here, especially since their form has improved, with the Red Devils winning five of their last six games.

Sancho struggled to make an impact in his first season back in England, contributing only eight goals and three assists in 38 games.

However, he has already scored three goals in eight games this season, demonstrating glimpses of his Borussia Dortmund form.

Rashford ended a 997-minute goal drought for Manchester United when he scored against Liverpool in August, and he added two more against Arsenal as his scoring touch returned at Old Trafford.

Both were members of England’s squad that advanced to the Euro 2020 final, but both also played a role in the penalty shootout loss to Italy.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be useful in Qatar, and it would seem foolish for Southgate to overlook players who have already proven themselves at the international level and who appear to be peaking at the perfect time for a mid-season tournament.

Finally, as Southgate stated, it is his responsibility to assemble a team that he believes is capable of winning games. It’s difficult to argue with a record that includes England reaching the World Cup final four in 2018 and the Euro 2020 final.

He also stated that “form has to come into it” rather than it being the other way around.

Instead of “reputation,” perhaps Southgate is simply selecting players he knows, giving him full knowledge of what he will get if he chooses them. The buildup to a World Cup is not the time to experiment with new players.

White and Maddison, on the other hand, will have every right to blame the former Middlesbrough manager for their continued obscurity.

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