With just days to go until Gareth Southgate announces his final England squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, James Maddison could hardly have chosen a better time to remind the Three Lions boss of his outstanding ability.
The 25-year-old continued his fine recent form with an influential display in the Leicester’s 2-0 win against Everton on Saturday, set up both goals and go close to getting his name on the scoresheet himself.
“This boy is built for a World Cup,” Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers said afterwards. “This boy can go into 150,000 [capacity] stadium, it doesn’t matter.”
While Maddison could improve his World Cup prospects, Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s hopes of a place in Southgate’s 26-man squad hang in the balance after the striker was forced off with an apparent hamstring injury on the hour.
So does Maddison deserve to go to Qatar? And does this mean the end of Calvert-Lewin’s World Cup ambitions?
“It’s not a debate”
Maddison was at the heart of all Leicester’s best attacking moves at Goodison Park and twice came close to scoring before Youri Tieleman’s spectacular finish.
Everton needed blocks from James Tarkowski and Idrissa Gueye to deny the former Norwich man in the first half, but it was his cutback that allowed Tielemans to send a sensational dipping effort into the top corner on the stroke of half-time.
Maddison rattled the outside of the post in the second half – after sending Dwight McNeil the wrong way with a casual shoulder drop – before teeing up Harvey Barnes for Leicester’s second.
Maddison has now been directly involved in 22 Premier League goals since the start of the year – only Harry Kane (32), Kevin De Bruyne (29) and Son Heung-min (25) have had a hand in more in 2022.
The playmaker’s only previous England appearance came as a substitute against Montenegro in November 2019.
Since then, Maddison has seen the likes of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount establish themselves in the Three Lions squad ahead of him.
“It’s not a debate for me,” said Rodgers when asked if Maddison has done enough to force his way into Southgate’s plans.
“He can take the ball, he’ll pass the ball, he’ll be creative. That’s his stage. That’s why I keep getting questions about him.
“He is one of the best players in the Premier League, who happens to be English. He is such a brilliant lad who has matured.”
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t Oin my mind’
And how does Maddison himself assess his future prospects?
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind,” he said. “The World Cup is almost there and that is the highlight.
“I always say the same answer. If I focus on my performance for Leicester, hopefully that catches the England manager’s eye, but that’s out of my control.”
Speaking to Sky Sports after full-time, former Chelsea and Netherlands striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink described Maddison as a “very talented player” who “knows where the spaces are” – but says the 25-year-old must be given a free role to maximize his abilities .
“I would take him, but I’m not the manager,” said the Dutchman. “They have other players like Grealish, [Marcus] Rashford and [Raheem] Sterling – where will he find his free role? Where is he going to express himself like he does at Leicester?”
Former Arsenal and Everton striker Kevin Campbell, meanwhile, agrees the Coventry-born player “deserves to go” to Qatar.
“He’s proved to be Leicester’s star man – game after game after game,” he told Sky Sports. “His numbers are better than anyone.”
Calvert-Lewin injury ‘not serious’ – but will that rule him out of the WC?
Even before his injury-hit departure, there was little in Calvert-Lewin’s performance to suggest he deserves a place on the plane to Qatar.
The striker, in fairness, was left painfully isolated by his Everton teammates in a toothless first half by the home side, who were lucky not to be further behind at half-time.
Calvert-Lewin’s best chance of the game came just after the restart, but he failed to make the most of it, firing straight at Danny Ward after collecting Alex Iwobi’s pass in his stride.
He scored in front of Southgate in Everton’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace last month but it remains his only goal of an injury-hit campaign, with this latest setback leaving his World Cup hopes hanging in the balance.
“I don’t know enough about it, but he felt something in his hamstring,” Toffees boss Frank Lampard confirmed afterwards.
“We don’t feel it’s a serious injury, but we’ll have to wait for the scan on Monday.”
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