England wildcards: Abraham, March and Davies among Southgate picks?
On Thursday, Gareth Southgate will name his England squad for upcoming friendlies against Germany and Brazil. Will he select the same names in the build-up to next summer's World Cup or will he take a few chances?
Here are five wildcard suggestions to make his latest squad a little more interesting ...
There haven't been too many bright spots in Swansea's season. They're just outside the relegation zone with only two wins to their name, have generally looked pretty disjointed for most of the time and they've scored only seven goals in 10 games. But one shining beacon in an otherwise gloomy state has been the man who scored four of those seven goals, Tammy Abraham.
The Chelsea loanee has continued where he left off at Bristol City last season, scoring in a struggling team, which suggests he might thrive in a side who could offer him a little more service. One barrier to his selection by Southgate would be his eligibility to play for Nigeria, but The Times reported this week that he has elected to represent England, and with reliable centre-forwards not named Harry Kane in reasonably short supply, Abraham is certainly worth a look.
England don't have many wingers. Actually, perhaps that's not entirely fair: they do have a few wingers, but most of them don't want to play on the wing. Theo Walcott has always thought of himself as a striker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left Arsenal in part because he wants to be a central midfielder, Adam Lallana is a No.10 these days and Raheem Sterling has been reinvented as a sort of wide poacher, arriving from the wing to score a bunch of tap-ins for Manchester City. There could be an opening for a wildcard, and the way Brighton's Solly March has started the season he could be that wildcard.
March is a wide man, right-footed but usually operating from the left flank, with rapid feet and a fine eye for a pass. It would also be a great redemption story: March missed a year with a cruciate knee ligament injury and came back in time to score the goal that ultimately sealed promotion for Brighton last season. It's not just position scarcity that could give March a chance, but it helps.
This selection would be a little more speculative, based on promise rather than form: but really it's not Davies's fault that it won't be on form, because he hasn't been given the opportunity to prove himself for Everton this season. The chaos at Goodison Park has meant Davies has been in and out of the team, as Ronald Koeman and now David Unsworth tries to make sense of a squad that emerged from the summer transfer window badly imbalanced.
But Davies is a hugely promising young midfielder, a leggy box-to-box type with his socks rolled down who looks like a footballer slightly out of time, but plays like a thoroughly modern one. In terms of Premier League experience he probably should have been ahead of Harry Winks in the queue for England, but that doesn't really matter: Davies can offer something different for Southgate's side, he'll play for the national team at some point, so why not make it now?
Despite the praise and possible job offers heading Sean Dyche's way, there's still a sense that Burnley's start to the season has flown under the radar. Seventh in the table, level on points with Liverpool, three shy of the Champions League places and all after selling their best centre-forward and best central defender. It's the latter that's most remarkable, because the departure of Andre Gray was at least offset by Chris Wood's purchase, but they decided not to sign a replacement for Michael Keane.
And yet, nobody outside the top four has conceded fewer goals than Burnley this season -- nine in 10 games -- for which credit should be shared out. You can hardly split central defenders Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, who have played every minute of the season so far together. But Tarkowski has been marginally more impressive and is four years younger, so thus could receive a call-up.
This would be a real wildcard. MLS is not the typical place that England look for players: otherwise Bradley Wright-Phillips would have 50+ caps. Harrison is 20 and barely has two seasons with New York City FC under his belt. He's played a grand total of 22 minutes for the Under-21s. But there's little doubt that Harrison has talent, and plenty of it. "I've spent a lot of years in this game, and he has something important that only a few players have," said his New York teammate David Villa earlier this year. "When he has the ball at his feet, you get the sensation something is going to happen."
Villa could just be talking up his colleague, but that's not to say he's lying, or even exaggerating. And the league in which Harrison plays shouldn't necessarily be a barrier, especially if NYCFC go out of the playoffs this weekend: Villa was recently recalled to the Spain team and Paulinho was picked for Brazil when he was playing in China. The difference of course is those players had already proved themselves in more established leagues, but if Southgate really wants to roll the dice, then why not give Harrison a call?
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.