Why did Southgate Pick Watkins?
“We like his pressing, his speed, the runs he makes,” said England boss, Gareth Southgate, as he began to justify his surprise selection of Ollie Watkins in the England squad.
The call-up of Watkins, joining Tyrone Mings in the latest England squad, is further proof of Villa’s progress this season, with Jack Grealish another one of Villa’s latest England players, who missed out this time due to injury.
Yet with the press campaigning for Leeds United Patrick Bamford, who’s had an impressive season, to make the squad, why did Southgate punt for Watkins?
After all, as some journalists have reminded us, Bamford’s Premier League record of 13 goals and five assists is superior to Watkins 10 goals and three assists, and on that fact alone, they insist he should have been in the squad.
Speed of course has always been key for Southgate when it comes to England’s attack, when you consider the likes of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, and Jess Lingard’s inclusion. Watkins certainly is blessed with pace and his previous experience as a winger is also a good fit, enabling him to potentially switch positions in-game with the likes of Sterling and Rashford.
“He has improvements to make but for his first season in the Premier League has done exceptionally well,” added Southgate, when discussing Watkins merits, dropping a clue to what he really likes about Watkins – namely, his immense potential.
The younger of the two strikers by almost three years, it’s Watkins (25-years-old) first season of Premier League football and it’s been an impressive first season so far.
Southgate touched on there’s more to come from Watkins and when you consider the striker has also hit the post a league-topping seven times this season, his goal haul is inches away from improving to being one of the best in the Premier League.
In comparison, Bamford didn’t exactly hit the ground running in his first experiences of the Premier League. In previous spells in the top tier (mainly on loan) for Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Burnley and Middlesborough, Bamford only scored once in his first 27 appearances.
You have to remember that last season was also Watkins first proper season playing as an out-and-out striker down the middle, having previously played more as a winger. Watkins scored an impressive 25 league goals for Brentford in the Championship in his first season in a central role. Bamford has never scored more in the Championship than when he scored 17 league goals for Middlesborough in the 2014/15 season.
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It’s doubtful that Southgate was making his last striker pick for the latest England squad in the short-term hope of finding someone to have a big influence in the upcoming Euros. In that case, Bamford would have a better shout, as he should top his best ever league goals tally this season.
Rather, Southgate views Watkins more as an investment, and based on his two season’s playing as a central striker, one with potentially more long-term upside than Bamford offers.