Gareth Southgate will continue blooding a new generation of England players in Friday’s friendly against Germany, but Danny Drinkwater’s absence at Wembley could see him consigned to the past.
The England manager has already handed out eight debuts in little more than a year in charge, with Crystal Palace midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek guaranteed to be the ninth and starts also expected for the uncapped pair of Jordan Pickford and Tammy Abraham.
Everton goalkeeper Pickford is likely to benefit from the broken finger Jack Butland sustained in training on the eve of the game – a cruel echo of the broken ankle he suffered against the Germans in 2016 – while Swansea striker Abraham could join fellow Chelsea loanee Loftus-Cheek in the XI.
Rookie defender Joe Gomez will be on the bench and the side will be captained for the first time by Tottenham’s Eric Dier, who at 23 becomes the Three Lions’ fifth-youngest post-war captain.
Yet amid all the new blood at St George’s Park on Thursday, it was Drinkwater’s non-appearance which piqued much interest.
Southgate reached out to midfielder with the hope of bringing him back into the fold only to be told by the 27-year-old he did not feel fit enough.
“I wanted to find out where he felt he was,” said Southgate. “He felt he wasn’t ready yet to play this level.
That may come as no surprise given he last completed 90 minutes while still with Leicester in April and has started just once since arriving at Stamford Bridge. A knock to the calf is understood to be the primary factor in his unavailability but Southgate admitted he could offer no promises of future chances to a player whose hunger for international duty has not always been apparent.
“If Danny didn’t feel he was ready for that I can understand it given the amount of minutes he’s had and he didn’t play at the end of the season with Leicester either.”
Asked whether he would be going back to Drinkwater in the next break, Southgate said: “I’ve no idea. I can’t hypothesise over who I might be calling in March. I have no idea of how he feels or where he’s at physically.
“I would have thought so, but we might have other players back by then.”
With Jordan Henderson, Harry Winks, Dele Alli and Adam Lallana all ahead of him when fit, Drinkwater’s time may be close to the end after just three caps.
England’s World Cup-winning under-17 side will be on hand at Wembley to parade their trophy and take in the prestige friendly, though Southgate admitted rising stars such as Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Rhian Brewster were already in his mind as his youthful reboot of the national side continues apace.
”I don’t think we should rule anything out with young players,” he said. ”The rate at which they can improve is huge. As with all the young ones it’s a case of assessing when is the right time to blood them and bring them in.”