Why James Ward-Prowse can be England’s wildcard
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Why James Ward-Prowse can be England’s wildcard

Gareth Southgate is spoilt for choice when it comes to midfielders, so Southampton's James Ward-Prowse has struggled to nail down a place in the England squad. The 26-year-old had a two-year wait between his first cap – seven minutes against Germany in March 2017 – and his second, an eight-minute cameo away to Montenegro. But since September 2020, Ward-Prowse has been in and around the St. George's Park set-up much more frequently, earning a further seven caps from England's 24 matches in that period. Ahead of the Three Lions' clash with Hungary tonight, here's why he can be a potential game-changer for Southgate's side.


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Mr Consistency

Ward-Prowse has not missed a Premier League game for Southampton since December 27 2018, when he was an unused substitute in a 2-1 home defeat to West Ham United.

Since then, he has grown into a man fit to be captain of the South Coast club and a major contributor at both ends of the field.

With 23 goals and 15 assists in the 110 appearances since his last non-involvement, Ward-Prowse has had at least one goal involvement every 2.9 matches.

Last season, he also led the Saints to their third FA Cup semi-final appearance this side of the millennium.

Hungry Lion

Having been cut from the preliminary 33-man squad for Euro 2020, Ward-Prowse – like the rest of us – had to sit at home and watch as his team-mates reached the final.

The prospect of missing out on another major tournament is something that the Saints’ skipper is desperate to avoid.

Speaking about the prospect of going to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, he said: “It’s a massive incentive.

“I’ve missed out once already before and it has definitely given me that hunger to be back there.

“These opportunities in an England shirt now become even more important to me and I have got to make sure that I give that everything to give myself the best chance to be there.”

Ward-Prowse was a late inclusion to this current squad, having been brought in to replace injured Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips – and it’s an opportunity that he knows doesn’t come around too often. 

“We are all in very healthy competition with each other, we all want to be in that first XI but realistically we know we all can’t be in there,” he said.

“It’s just a case of doing the best you can and if you can do that consistently well for your club and when you get your opportunities for England then you give yourself a good chance.”

The Portsmouth-born star staked a claim for regular inclusion last weekend – scoring his second-ever England goal in the Three Lions’ 5-0 victory in Andorra, when he prodded home after seeing his initial spot-kick saved.




A Different Option For Southgate

What Ward-Prowse can offer Southgate is versatility – he is a player who is comfortable in a variety of central positions.

On Saturday night, the Saints’ No.8 occupied a deeper role, with Jesse Lingard and Phil Foden playing ahead of him in a three-man midfield.

For Southampton, he plays slightly higher up the pitch with a partner alongside him, providing a little more freedom to dictate the play for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.

He is also – arguably most notably – a dead ball specialist, especially from direct free-kicks.

In 2020-21, Ward-Prowse had a conversion rate of 20% from his 20 attempts at goal, which was comfortably higher than any other Premier League player who attempted 10 or more direct free-kicks that campaign.

With just over a year to go before squads will be finalised for Qatar 2022, Ward-Prowse might be staking a claim at just the right time.

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