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Ollie Watkins gets first England call-up but Alexander-Arnold dropped | Football

Gareth Southgate has rewarded Ollie Watkins for his excellent debut season in the Premier League by giving him a first England call-up. The 25-year-old Aston Villa striker has scored 10 times in the competition, plus two more in the Carabao Cup, and he takes his place in a 26-man squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

The major surprises in Southgate’s announcement were the absences of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and the Leeds striker Patrick Bamford. Southgate said Alexander-Arnold had been dropped because he had not matched the “exceptional” form of Reece James and Kieran Trippier. Kyle Walker, another right-back, joins that pair in the squad.

“There’s some areas of the pitch where we’ve got incredible competition for places and Trent is very unfortunate,” Southgate said. “I don’t think that he’s played at the level that he found in the last couple of years but I think he’s getting very close to that now. I think in the last couple of weeks, he’s definitely taken steps in the right direction.

“It’s simply that we think Reece James and Kieran Trippier have had exceptional seasons with their clubs. Kyle Walker is in great form and we’ve got other players in the league who are also playing well – [Matty] Cash at Aston Villa, [Luke] Ayling at Leeds. We’ve got two very good right-backs in the under-21s. It’s a remarkable position of strength.

“What I’ve said to Trent earlier today is that I’ve made that same call to Kyle and Kieran in the past and their response was a good one and they took up the challenge and they found themselves back in the squad and Trent is of course a super talent and I’m sure he’ll play a big part with England in the future. He misses out this time. But we could quite conceivably be sitting here before the summer and he’s with us.”

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Bamford had been expected to get the nod ahead of Watkins and in the face of injuries to centre-forwards, and Southgate said he had been “very close”. The previously capped Harry Winks, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Michael Keane have been left out.

As expected, Southgate has selected the in-form defenders Luke Shaw and John Stones, of Manchester United and Manchester City respectively, and also recalled Jesse Lingard, who is on loan at West Ham from Manchester United.

Southgate has also included the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder, Jude Bellingham, even though his club are reluctant to release him because of the need for returnees to Germany from the UK to isolate for 14 days. The situation is fluid and the hope at the Football Association is that it could yet change, although Southgate said he did not expect him to come.

The West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone has been selected for the first time in the absence of the injured Jordan Pickford.

Southgate said of Watkins: “We like his pressing, the speed and the runs in behind. He’s got some improvement to make in linking the game, but in his first season in the Premier League at a big club, he’s done exceptionally well.”

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