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Ollie Watkins, Sam Johnstone named in England squad

Ollie Watkins, Sam Johnstone named in England squad
© Reuters
Jude Bellingham has also been included in the 26-man party.

Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins and West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone have received their first senior England call-ups, while Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham has been called up despite concerns over his availability.

Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate has named a 26-man squad for this month’s World Cup qualification triple header against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Leeds striker Patrick Bamford had been widely tipped for a call-up, but Southgate has turned to Watkins, who has impressed since joining Villa from Brentford in the summer.

Johnstone, who has shone for the embattled Baggies this season, gets his maiden call-up following an injury to England number one Jordan Pickford.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is conspicuous by his absence from a squad that sees Luke Shaw, John Stones and Jesse Lingard return after long absences.

Seventeen-year-old Bellingham’s inclusion is interesting given the Football Association had expected regional coronavirus travel restrictions in Germany to rule him out.

Dortmund team-mate Jadon Sancho misses out through injury, while Jack Grealish, James Maddison and Tammy Abraham are not included having been dealing with issues of their own.

Southgate said there had been some “close calls” when selecting his squad, including the decision to include Watkins over Bamford.

“(Bamford was) very close,” Southgate said at a press conference. “There’re a number of positions in this squad that have been really close calls and we felt we wanted an extra striker.

“We’re really pleased with Harry (Kane) and (Dominic) Calvert-Lewin and what they’ve done. Tammy Abraham hasn’t really been involved for Chelsea over the last four to six weeks.

“And both Ollie and Patrick in particular, their goals record has been good. We like the personalities of both. Ollie is a player we’ve had less interaction with in the past. It’s going to be good to get to know him.

“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.

“That’s been a really close call because all the things I’ve said about Ollie I could have said for Patrick as well, so he’s very unfortunate.”

Southgate confirmed Pickford’s injury had created a space in the squad for Johnstone, while Newcastle’s Karl Darlow had also been considered.

“Karl Darlow has had a very good season for Newcastle,” Southgate said. “He’s probably found himself out of the team at just the wrong time in many regards really.

“But Sam Johnstone, in a team that has had a difficult season, has kept a very good level of performance. He’s comfortable in possession as well as keeping the ball out of his net.”

Southgate said there had never been any question about the ability of recalled players Lingard, Shaw and Stones.

“Jesse of the three you’d have to say is a bit more fortunate to be in,” Southgate said. “I think Luke and John have performed over a period of time.

“We’ve got injuries in the attacking areas which have opened up an opportunity for Jesse, but I have to say his performances for West Ham have been excellent. We know he can perform at the level.”

Southgate said he was not expecting to be able to call on Dortmund midfielder Bellingham due to the quarantine rules currently in place in Germany.

“But those rules can change so quickly and, while we’re still investigating what’s possible, we wanted to name him in the squad,” the England boss said.

“I’ve explained to Jude we’re leaving him there, but we know it’s looking doubtful at this moment in time that he’ll be able to join up.”

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