NEARLY a month has passed since AC Milan last conceded a goal. Indeed, since their 1-1 draw at home to Udinese on 25th February Stefano Pioli’s side have kept a clean sheet in four consecutive matches, a run that has included important results against Inter and Napoli. Fikayo Tomori has been central to it all.
Tomori has grown into the Rossoneri’s dominant defender since joining from Chelsea just over a year ago. While the 24-year-old showed promise at Chelsea, he has fulfilled his potential for AC Milan who are edging closer and closer to their first Scudetto since 2011 – they are three points clear at the top of the Serie A table with just eight games of the season left to play.
For all that Tomori is considered one of the best in his position in Italy, though, he is not part of the picture for England. The 24-year-old was omitted from Gareth Southgate’s latest squad for the upcoming friendly matches against Ivory Coast and Switzerland with Conor Coady, Marc Guehi, Harry Maguire, Tyrone Mings, John Stones and Ben White preferred.
Of course, every England squad selection prompts discussion. There are always controversial omissions, like Jadon Sancho who has been left out despite his recent good form for Manchester United. In Sancho’s case, though, Southgate has a variety of comparable options to choose from in his position.
— England (@England) March 21, 2022
This, however, is not the case in central defence. Maguire is enduring a prolonged period of dreadful individual form while Stones is struggling for consistent game time for Manchester City. At this point, neither of the centre backs that started for England at Euro 2020 last summer can be counted on.
Mings has also suffered from dramatic dips in form this season with the Aston Villa defender even dropped by Dean Smith just a few months ago. Coady is enjoying a strong season at Wolves, but plays in a back three system that isn’t used all that often by Southgate. Then there’s Marc Guehi who has impressed for Crystal Palace this season, but has only just earned his first England call-up.
That Tomori has been overlooked in favour of these options defies logic. The Chelsea academy graduate plays in a back four just like the one Southgate likes and has all the physical and technical attributes to succeed at international level. England would be a better team, and certainly a stronger squad, with Tomori included and at 24 there is potential for him to develop even further. What more does he have to do?
Southgate has a difficult decision to make with regards to his defence before the 2022 World Cup. Maguire and Stones have formed the basis of England’s team since the 2018 World Cup, but their recent form surely puts in doubt their place in the national side. At left back, Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw’s injury track record is also a concern with both players currently sidelined. In goal, Jordan Pickford could finish the season relegated.
England certainly still have the talent to win the World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year, but it’s rare for an international team to achieve success without a solid defence. This is cause for concern for Southgate who has long prioritised structure in his side, sometimes even to his own detriment.
Tomori could have offered him a solution. He still could, but Southgate is running out of time to integrate the AC Milan centre back into his squad. This month’s friendlies would have been the ideal opportunity to do this. Instead, Tomori remains an outsider despite being a central part of Italy’s best team.