England play Croatia in Rijeka on Friday before heading to Sevilla to face Spain
There were fresh faces aplenty at St George’s Park on Monday afternoon as four men stepped through the doors as senior England players for the first time.
Mason Mount, Jadon Sancho, James Maddison and Lewis Dunk all arrived ahead of the upcoming international break after each earning a call-up to Gareth Southgate‘s squad.
And there appeared to be little time to settle into their new surroundings as the players immediately took part in a team-bonding exercise, enjoying a session of pool basketball before cooling down with yoga.
Sancho stands an excellent chance of being involved in at least one of the games. He has been in sensational form for Borussia Dortmund this season, assisting six goals and scoring one in just 215 minutes of play.
The 18-year-old arrived with fellow Bundesliga star Reiss Nelson. The Hoffenheim winger, on loan from Arsenal, has earned his first call-up to the Under-21 squad following his performances in Germany.
Mount was close behind his fellow England stars and arrived with a beaming smile across his face. The midfielder has been thoroughly impressive for Derby County in the Championship this season, where he is on loan from Chelsea.
The same can be said of Leicester star James Maddison. A £25million summer arrival from Norwich, Maddison has been the star of the show in an otherwise indifferent start to the season for the Foxes. The 21-year-old has scored three goals and created a further two in eight Premier League appearances.
Dunk’s arrival in England’s Staffordshire base completed a whirlwind 24 hours for the Brighton defender after he was called up on short notice following the withdrawal of James Tarkowski through injury. Dunk, 26, also signed a new long-term contract with the Seagulls earlier this week.
Ben Chilwell was also called up to the England squad on Monday evening after Luke Shaw withdrew through injury. The Leicester full-back made his debut for England against Switzerland at the King Power last month and returns to the squad after Shaw sustained a hefty blow to his leg in Manchester United’s win over Newcastle.
Another notable call-up was that of Ross Barkley, who returns to the squad more than two years after his last England appearance, which came against Australia in May 2016.
Southgate and his young squad will be aiming to get England’s Nations League challenge back on track following a 2-1 defeat by Spain at Wembley last month.
Further defeats in Rijeka and Sevilla would almost certainly see their chances of finishing top of the group come to an end while also inviting the prospect of being relegated to the second tier of the competition.
England would have been expecting a hostile atmosphere in Croatia, but they will instead be met with empty stands. The World Cup runners-up have been punished by UEFA after a swastika was daubed on the pitch before a game against Italy in a Euro 2016 qualifier.
But Southgate, who signed a four-year contract with the Football Association to take him to the end of the 2022 World Cup this week, said he would prefer the jeers of opposing fans than the echoes of a deserted arena.
‘It’ll be the first time I’ve ever been in a game like that. It will be a very different feel,’ said Southgate. ‘In some ways, I’d have liked our players to experience going there with the stadium bouncing and Croatia reminding us what happened in the summer. I could then tell them to go and deal with it, but we haven’t got that opportunity.
‘But I still think the lads will know they are playing for England. We have to apply ourselves in the right way. The quality of the opponent is really high so we will have enough of a challenge. My preference would be for a full stadium but that isn’t the case so we adapt.’
WHO ARE NEW BOYS MASON MOUNT AND JADON SANCHO?
The 18 year-old’s electrifying performances off the bench have earned Sancho the reputation as one of the most exciting young players in European football.
In his most recent outing in the Champions League, Sancho recorded yet another assist with a defence-splitting pass for Bruun Larsen.
‘When our opponents ease off a little and Jadon comes into the game, then he’s a weapon for us every single time,’ said team-mate Marco Reus after Sancho produced a goal and an assist in a 15 minute-cameo against Nuremberg last month.
So far this season the teenager has recorded an astonishing 6 assists in 245 minutes.
Sancho is one of the trailblazers of talented young English players to move to Germany to further their playing chances.
It seems the grass is greener for Sancho, who has been rewarded with a new contract by Dortmund until 2022.
Sancho, who scored five times and contributed seven assists in his debut campaign with Dortmund, said: ‘I am very glad that I decided to change to Dortmund.. because everything turned out to be true – this city lives football like no other and at Borussia young players are given playing time.
‘Here I can develop excellently. I am completely happy and satisfied and proud to be part of this team. Here is something great.
Sancho was a member of the England Under-17 World-Cup winning squad and was awarded the Golden Player award at the European Under-17 Championships.
Born in London, Sancho played for the Watford’s academy until the age of 14 when he moved to Manchester City. In August 2017 Sancho joined Dortmund for a fee thought to be in the region of £8million.
Mount’s ability to score goals from midfield, along with his technical ability and creativity, has caught the attention of the England manager.
The 19-year-old, on loan at Derby from Chelsea, has shot to prominence under the tutelage of manager Frank Lampard.
Mount was particularly impressive against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup when he showed off his excellent range of passing at Old Trafford.
The confident midfielder also stepped up in the penalty shootout and lashed the ball into the top corner past Lee Grant.
Lampard clearly thinks he is ready for an England call-up. He said: ‘Whatever level you put him in, because of his quality, work ethic and mentality – he wants to get better and better – he will do anything he wants to.’
As is customary for a talented young Chelsea player, Mount spent a year on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, where he scored 14 goals and was named player of the year.
His excellent form didn’t go unnoticed by Gareth Southgate, who invited the midfielder to train with the England squad prior to the World Cup.
Mount has played a direct role in 17 goals in his last 18 appearances across the Dutch Eredivisie and Championship.
He already has pedigree for England, scoring the winning goal on his debut for England Under 21s against Latvia in September.
Born in Portsmouth, Mount began his journey with Chelsea’s academy at the age of 6.