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Gareth Southgate admits concern over England's shrinking talent pool with only 32 per cent of Premier League starters eligible for selection

Gareth Southgate on picking players for England based on form: "We've got to pick our best players where possible, and then there's a balance between going for a certain level of player who isn't playing as regularly, or a level that's physically fit and doing well"

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England manager Gareth Southgate claims it's difficult for him to stick to his philosophy of picking on form due to a lack of depth in certain positions.

Gareth Southgate has painted a bleak picture about England's talent pool, fearing the numbers he will be able to pick from will continue to decline and impact his squad.

Around 32 per cent of starters in the Premier League are eligible for England and Southgate is worried about the long-term effect on the national team.

"The numbers are the numbers. They're not going up," he said.

"It has been around 32 per cent but that's down from 35 per cent when I took over and 38 per cent in the years before so the graph is clear - there's no argument about that.

"Twenty-eight per cent has happened in a couple of weekends in the last few weeks.

"It becomes more complicated (to succeed). What's the best way to judge our players? The Champions League.

"If you look at Champions League minutes this year we are sixth on that list - we're actually behind Brazil and Portugal.

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The Guardian's Jonathan Liew and Miguel Delaney from The Independent discuss Gareth Southgate's comments that future England managers might have to look in the Championship if homegrown numbers continue to fall in the Premier League.

"If breaking into the team is the foundation, the Champions League and the upper echelons of the Premier League is the finishing school. The rest of Europe get their foundation in their own domestic leagues and then the cream is sold around the big five leagues and they get the finishing school at the end.

"At the moment we are a long way behind France and Spain on those numbers and it is really interesting that Brazil, who obviously have a really powerful domestic league, now have as many players playing Champions League - or more than we have."

Data shows figures for players eligible to play for England in the Premier League are in line with the five-year average of 32 per cent with the figure of 28 per cent only representing the lowest gameweek starters for this season.

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Jamie O'Hara didn't hold back when discussing Gareth Southgate's recent squad selection.

Also, the playing time of English players at the big six clubs has been around 27 per cent for the last four seasons, 16 per cent higher than the average for the previous four seasons.

"I think it won't hit us necessarily in the next 18 months but if there are 66 players each week it does mean that positionally you have to add in what that means as well," added Southgate.

"I think we've got four left-footed left-backs in the league at the moment so we will have to start looking in the Championship or elsewhere."

Southgate: Impossible to pick players on form

Harry Maguire produced a composed display
Image: Harry Maguire is out of favour at Manchester United

Southgate says it is "impossible" to pick players on form alone for England after naming Kalvin Phillips and Harry Maguire in his latest squad.

The Manchester-based pair have racked up only 238 minutes, the equivalent of less than three full matches, between them in the Premier League since the start of 2023.

But the England regulars have kept their places in Southgate's first squad since the World Cup, with the likes of AC Milan's Fikayo Tomori and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse missing out, as well as Brighton duo Lewis Dunk and Solly March.

After being named permanent England manager in 2017, Southgate said he would "never pick on reputation, form has to come into it".

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Gareth Southgate has named his England squad for the European Championship qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine and Ivan Toney's good form for Brentford has earnt him a call-up to the squad.

But he has now rowed back on those comments when asked about the continued inclusion of some players who were not playing for their clubs - and said he still believes England's pool of players is "short of depth" in some areas.

"It's impossible [to just pick players who are playing]," he said. "We've got to pick our best players where possible, and then there's a balance between going for a certain level of player who isn't playing as regularly, or a level that's physically fit and doing well.

"It's interesting talking to other coaches of national teams that they feel the same, and they feel the same of picking your best players, so long as they can get to a reasonable physical level.

"That's where we are with it, really. You'd love to have that depth, but we are shorter than the other big nations on depth of selection. I'm happy with the quality we have to pick from, but in certain positions we are short of depth.

"Those numbers are deteriorating rapidly in the Premier League, it's not a concern for me in the next 18 months but in four of five years time, we have to be really careful on that."

Southgate did reserve praise for March and Dunk, who have helped catapult Brighton to within two points of fifth-placed Newcastle, and still in with an outside shot of Champions League qualification.

Dunk's sole England cap came in a friendly with the USA in November 2018 while March, who has scored three goals in his last five games, played five times for Southgate's U21 side earlier in his carer.

"They are playing very well, their club are playing exceptionally well," Southgate said. "The coach is doing an amazing job, he's got the team playing in a unique style in our league.

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Brentford manager Thomas Frank claims Ivan Toney 'truly deserves' his England call-up and reveals he found out about his selection from Bees teammate Saman Ghoddos.

"They're having an outstanding season as a club. Solly, we had in the U21s with us, he's a player we know well. But at the moment I don't see him ahead of Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, in those positions on the field.

"They're hard calls, but we're always watching everybody regularly, live or on our system during the week.

"There's not a game that we miss, and we know there are some players who are playing well for their clubs but I've got to pick the team and squad that I think best gives us the chance of winning in two really big matches coming up.

"Experience is part of that, we go to Naples and play Italy who are a top side - it's a different sort of environment and you have to get that balance right of experience for those types of games."

England's squad in full...

Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale

Defenders: Ben Chilwell, Eric Dier, Marc Guehi, Reece James, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker

Midfielders: Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson, James Maddison, Mason Mount, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice

Forwards: Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Ivan Toney

Southgate unconcerned by Naples venue

Meanwhile, Southgate has no safety concerns ahead of next week's opening Euro 2024 qualifier with Italy in Naples.

There were clashes between Napoli and Eintracht Frankfurt fans before and after their Champions League tie on Wednesday, which the hosts won 5-0 on aggregate.

"In the end, it's for the Italian FA to decide where they play their games," he said. "Clearly, our organisation will always try to make the travelling experience as smooth as possible for our fans and that's important.

"From a personal perspective, to go to such a famous football city and having grown up watching Maradona win the title there and in a year where they look like they will do it again, I am looking forward to the football experience of being there. I have to focus on the bits I can control."

Ivan Toney: More than a Kane understudy for England?

On the eve of Brentford's first Premier League match in August 2021, Thomas Frank made a promise about Ivan Toney.

"He has got all the abilities," said the Brentford manager. "His link-up play, his finishing, timing in the box and awareness, so I am sure he will score goals in the Premier League."

The goals have certainly been there. Twelve last season, 16 this term with a dozen games to spare.

But it's the link-up play that has been a key factor in Brentford's success this season. It prompted Jamie Carragher to describe him as "one of the best attacking players in the league", "an all-round footballer" and "reminiscent of Harry Kane".

That last point is especially poignant given England's squad announcement on Thursday. Despite a betting scandal hanging over the Brentford striker, Gareth Southgate has decided that Toney can not only fit into this England striking department - but bring something a little extra as well.

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