Chelsea’s visit to Newcastle not on Gareth Southgate’s last-look tour
Chelsea travel to the frontier of the Premier League to play Newcastle on Sunday. That is further than Gareth Southgate intends – and maybe ne – to travel to make his final selections for the upcoming international break.
While Chelsea are playing in Newcastle on Sunday, Gareth Southgate will be just down the road from Stamford Bridge to watch Fulham host Burnley. The England manager will take another look at Ryan Sessegnon and – wait for it – Joe Hart (he’s at Burnley now, ICYMI and you very easily could have). By taking in this game featuring one of England’s rising stars and a Three Lions’ cast-off, Southgate may have already made his decision about some of Chelsea’s similarly situated players.
Ross Barkley has made returning to the national team one of his top ambitions now that he is healthy and starting for Chelsea. Barkley’s last competitive cap was in Euro 2016 qualifiers just under three years ago. He followed that up with five friendly appearances before bouncing in and out of the squad – but never onto the pitch – for World Cup qualifying, before bouncing out for good.
Barkley has a long road ahead before he can make his way into Southgate’s squad. His first priority must be defending his place in Chelsea’s squad against Mateo Kovacic. Playing time for the club is a major factor in Southgate’s decision-making. If Barkley cannot get on the pitch for the Blues, he will have little chance of getting inside St. George’s Park.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s standing with England is every bit as confused and tenuous as his role with the club. Loftus-Cheek had a consistent and strong World Cup, which he earned through a consistent and strong season on loan at Crystal Palace. Now back at Chelsea he has only 22 minutes this season and is unlikely to add to that total on Sunday.
Kovacic’s effect on Barkley is magnified on Loftus-Cheek. Loftus-Cheek must first put himself on Southgate’s weekend schedules before he can find himself back on Southgate’s team sheet. He may need to take the same route as last year and head out on loan so he has something to show the national manager.
Gary Cahill can only hope that if Joe Hart can somehow find his way back amongst the Three Lions, so can he. Cahill is yet to be in a Chelsea squad this season, and that, too, is unlikely to change at Newcastle. The centre-back played only one game for England at the World Cup, and is now down to – at best – fourth on the depth chart for a two-man defence.
Before the World Cup’s third-place game there was talk of it being Cahill’s last opportunity to represent his country. He is at least as far from Southgate’s squad as he is from Maurizio Sarri’s starting XI. His international retirement may be a formality when he announces it. Or he may charge his way back into the picture for both club and country. Again, similar probabilities given his history.
Chelsea, then, offer little reason for Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland to head to the northeast to scout the Blues. Hopefully the travel logistics and the attraction of watching Ryan Sessegnon are the main factors keeping them away, and they are not prematurely writing off Chelsea’s contingent.
But for the upcoming international break, the Blues’ Englishmen may spend the time at home working hard to ensure this does not happen. And in Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s case, that may entail spending early September settling into a new home.