With Gareth Southgate’s desire to seemingly integrate England’s next batch of ‘Young Lions’ into the national team squad, Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey can’t be too far from his mind.
Throughout England’s 3-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland, the evidence was clear to see as 17-year-old Borrusia Dortmund midfielder, Jude Bellingham, was handed his first international cap for the Three Lions during the second half.
Across the entirety of England’s 2020 Nations League campaign, Southgate has opted to employ a 5-3-2 formation, with wing-backs operating fluidly on either flank.
Lamptey, who played a full 90 minutes for the under-21s against Andorra in midweek, seems to be a perfect candidate for a spot in the senior starting-XI in the near future due to his high-quality performances on a consistent basis.
However, Lamptey’s path into Southgate’s squad looks like a potentially daunting task during the current climate, due to the tough competition within the England squad.
Since Lamptey’s arrival on the Sussex shores, he’s been one of the first names on Graham Potter’s teamsheet.
The 20-year-old completed his transfer to the Seagulls on deadline day in January 2020, shortly after putting in an eye-catching performance for his former club Chelsea, as they came from a goal down to beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Despite making a permanent move to the south coast in the winter of 2020, Lamptey had to wait until ‘Project Restart’ after the United Kingdom’s national COVID-19 lockdown to make his debut for the club.
He impressed when making his Brighton bow as the club saw out a 0-0 draw with Leicester City.
What has made the England Under-21 international a fans’ favourite already is his knowledgeable head on young shoulders.
Lamptey has shown composure to his game which would be expected of that from 32-year-old teammate, Adam Lallana, and due to his immense youth, he will only get better.
What makes Lamptey such a useful asset to Potter is his ability to read the game and turn defence into attack.
The 20-year-old netted his first goal in professional football when notching the equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur prior to the international break.
Pascal Gross collected the ball and drove into the box before sliding it across to Lamptey, who coolly took a touch and slotted it past Hugo Lloris.
The single goal to his name doesn’t give his attacking impetus justice, as more often than not, he finds himself in space down the right and looking to drive at the heart of the opposition defence.
So far this season, Lamptey has averaged 1.3 successful dribbles per match, while drawing 2.5 fouls.
A weakness of Brighton as a whole has been their defensive solidarity, and with Lamptey a common feature in defence, this is a criticism that could extend onto him personally.
The Seagulls have conceded 14 goals across their opening eight matches of the 2020/21 Premier League season, which is the fifth-highest behind Leeds United (17), West Bromwich Albion (17), Liverpool (16), and Fulham (15).
However, due to the environment of behind-closed-doors football, the Premier League as a whole is seeing more goals-per-game than any other season.
No player quite epitomises England’s tough competition at right-back more than Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Premier League and Champions League winner has been one of the main instigators of Jurgen Klopp’s success on Merseyside, but still finds minutes hard to come by for the national team.
It’s often easy to forget his young age at 22 due to the number of achievements already to his name. Alongside team accolades, Alexander-Arnold was also named the 2019/20 PFA Young Player of the Year, while also being named in the 2019 UEFA Champions League Team of the Season.
The 22-year-old’s electric pace and pinpoint distribution sets him apart from other players in his position.
Across the past two full Premier League seasons, he has registered a combined 25 assists and scored five goals. Alexander-Arnold is also lethal from set-pieces from outside the box; most notably when he whipped an unstoppable shot past Kepa Arrizabalaga from a training ground routine.
Alexander -Arnold looks to be the natural successor to Kyle Walker’s starting position in Southgate’s starting XI. However, when the Manchester City defender has shifted into the center-back position, the Liverpool defender has still found himself among the substitutes.
This could potentially be due to the question marks raised about his defensive ability, similarly that to Lamptey. As previously mentioned, Liverpool have already conceded 16 goals, which is an average of two per game. In the absence of Virgil van Dijk, following his injury sustained against Everton, the Reds’ defence have looked far from their best.
Alexander-Arnold’s future may be in midfield due to this, but neither Klopp nor Southgate have felt the need to move him there just yet.
One player who has started to feature regularly in the wing-back position for the Three Lions has been Chelsea’s, Reece James.
The 20-year-old played the full 90-minutes in the friendly victory against the Republic of Ireland, and despite carrying a suspension meaning he will miss both of England’s Nations League fixtures, was still included in the squad.
Across the 2018/19 EFL Championship season, James broke onto the scene during a loan spell with Wigan Athletic. After 31 appearances for the Latics, James won three individual awards at the club’s end of season ceremony including Player of the Season, as they recorded an 18th placed finish and their second-tier survival.
James and Lamptey are no strangers to one another as the pair graduated through the Chelsea academy at the same time. After sustaining an injury, he made his debut for the Blues in a 7-1 Carabao Cup victory against Grimsby; where he scored and registered two assists.
He then became the youngest Champions League goal scorer in Chelsea’s history when netting in the 4-4 draw against Ajax in 2019.
What gives James a potential edge against his England teammates is his work defensively. So far this season, he has averaged 2.3 tackles per game and 1.6 clearances.
He is also unfazed by the ‘big’ occasion, where his stats in the Champions League are slightly better, as he’s averaged 3.5 tackles and 2 clearances per game in Europe’s elite competition so far this season.
Much like Lamptey, he is no slouch when going forward. He netted his first Premier League goal for Chelsea against the Seagulls by firing an unstoppable effort into the top corner from outside the box.
To be Southgate’s next reliable wing-back, he made need to work on his discipline after receiving a red card after the full-time whistle in the 1-0 defeat to Denmark.
Another member of Aidy Boothroyd’s Under-21 squad who will be looking to break into the senior squad in the future is Norwich City’s, Max Aarons.
The Canaries defender was a rare bright spark in the side that finished bottom of the Premier League table at the end of the 2019/20 campaign.
As a result, there was heavy interest in him from elite teams most notably Spurs and Barcelona, but stayed in East Anglia for at least another season.
Aarons was a member of Luton Town’s academy for five years before moving to East Anglia in 2016, and he made his debut for the club in the EFL Cup against Stevenage in 2018.
His first senior goal came in the same competition two weeks later as he netted in a 3-1 victory over Cardiff City.
His first league appearance for the club came in the East Anglian derby against Ipswich as the clubs met at a stalemate in a 1-1 draw.
At the 2018/19 EFL awards, he was named in the Championship Team of the Season, while collecting the Young Player of the Year award.
At the time of writing, Norwich sit third in the Championship table and are competing, yet again, for promotion to the Premier League.
Much like the modern-day full-back, Aarons excels in going forward and creating problems for the opposition defence. So far this season, he has averaged 1.4 key passes per match while completing 1.5 dribbles.
However, he is yet to score or assist in the Canaries’ opening league matches this season.