Harry Winks took full advantage of his late call-up with a mature display in the heart of England's midfield against Lithuania, and Ben McAleer argues that the Tottenham youngster deserves more starts ahead of next year's World Cup...
"Approaching the major tournament as outsiders will do Southgate's side no harm as expectations lessen coming into Russia 2018. Of course, there are fans who will big-up England's chances next summer and the debut showing of Winks should boost hopes."
Some fans were in uproar when it was announced Harry Winks was promoted to the senior England squad last week.
True, the Tottenham midfielder has registered just 602 minutes of Premier League action in his career and made only four starts in that time, but it's harsh to judge whether a player is deserving of a call up on minutes and appearances alone - Frank Lampard had made 91 club appearances before his first international cap and Marcus Rashford 10 after all. An ankle injury sustained last April prematurely ended Winks' season as he was starting to make headway in the Spurs XI.
However, when the 21-year-old has featured following a return to fitness, he's carried out his midfield duties effectively, be it domestically or in European competition. Indeed, he was rewarded with a first senior start for England in the 1-0 win over Lithuania and did not disappoint.
Polished and mature performance on debut
Winks' greatest quality is his exceptional ability to retain possession in the middle of the park and did so superbly on Sunday evening, attempting the joint-most passes (98) in Vilnius and misplaced just four of those, recording a pass success rate of 95.9%.
On top of that, the youngster made the joint-most key passes (3), with Winks not keeping hold of the ball for the sake of it and instead probing the opposition in pursuit of an England goal.
This attacking thrust from deep has been lacking for England in recent years, with the Three Lions missing a player to link the midfield and attack to make for a more fluid England side. While Gareth Southgate's men were far from their best in Lithuania, Winks' need to be on the ball and drive the team forward yielded a performance far beyond his years.
A renewed sense of optimism greeted supporters, despite the lacklustre showing from the England players, with Winks the heartbeat of the side. While it's impossible to look too much into a performance against a nation ranked the 120th best in world football, Spurs fans will testify to the midfielder's talent in the middle of the park. When called upon, Winks churns out mature performance after mature performance for Mauricio Pochettino's side and the hope now is that he can transfer his good club form to country.
No shortage of midfielders but Winks deserves his chance
With only a handful of qualifiers left to play across the continent this week, England are [21.0] to lift the World Cup next year. Approaching the major tournament as outsiders will do Southgate's side no harm as expectations lessen coming into Russia 2018. Of course, there are fans who will big-up England's chances next summer and the debut showing of Winks should boost hopes.
The only issue here is whether he has arrived too late to the party to make the cut next year. Winks was only promoted to the senior side by circumstance, with Fabian Delph's injury leading to his call up. Delph, Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, the returning Adam Lallana and Jake Livermore, at the time of writing, all appear to be ahead of Winks in the central midfield pecking order, even if Winks brings something different to the national team.
With Pochettino as his club manager, though, Winks combines midfield tenacity with ingenuity ideally, as is to be expected with the Argentine his boss. He may not be the most physically imposing central midfielder in the game, but that has not stopped the likes of Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric and Thiago Alcantara, to name three, from excelling, with the trio, among others, utilising their superior low centre of gravity to brush off opposition challenges and breeze past opponents up field.
Wembley double-header to show exactly where England are at
Of course, it could be very different for Winks against superior opponents than Lithuania. England face World Cup favourites Germany, [6.4], and second favourites Brazil, [7.6] at Wembley next month. The duo will provide a far sterner test for England than Sunday's opponents. The pair, though, would highlight how far Winks has developed after a strong debut outing for the senior side. He's able to dictate play where required, as he does so for Spurs.
If he maintains his good form between now and next May, Winks is certainly in with an outside chance of making the plane to Russia next summer and would perhaps be the pinnacle of what has been a whirlwind 18 months, to date, for the Spurs man.