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The England youngsters lining up to join Gareth Southgate's Three Lions evolution

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 20/11/2018 James Benge, Jack Rosser
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Gareth Southgate and his England side signed off an outstanding 2018 in style with their win over Croatia at Wembley on Sunday.

Their Nations League win sends the Three Lions into hiatus in a strong position, but they won’t stand still. Southgate has championed the pathway from the ‘Young Lions’ setup ever since his appointment, and insists that will be a factor in 2019.

“Next year now looks like a really exciting year to look forward to,” he said following the final game of the year. “All the players in the squad want to come, the young ones are desperate to be a part of it. That feeling around the team is really powerful and we’ve got to build on that.

Video: Pearce hails Southgate development (Sky Sports)

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Of the young players in the squad, Southgate added: "Any time you go in the dressing room or walking around the hotel, on Saturday night it was like a youth club.

"You can hear them laughing and joking and having fun and they’re relaxed and they’re enjoying being together and enjoying playing."

With the U21s rounding off their 2018 calendar against Denmark on Tuesday night, Standard Sport profiles six of Aidy Boothroyd’s squad who will be looking to join that exclusive youth club over the coming year.

Lewis Cook

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A World Cup-winning captain of sorts, Cook has been under Southgate’s keen gaze for some time, making a solitary appearance for the senior side off the bench in a 1-1 draw with Italy in March.

The Bournemouth midfielder led the England U20s to World Cup glory in 2017 and was named in the team of the tournament as the Young Lions defended their Toulon Tournament title in June this year. He has started all but two of the Cherries’ games so far this season as they remain above Manchester United in the table after a flying start.

Harry Winks is the man everyone is looking to as the missing link in midfield to take the side forward, but, as perhaps the prime example of Southgate’s pathway, Cook has every chance of being England’s metronome going forward.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka

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On the opening day of the Premier League season, all eyes in west London were on a young full-back ready to make his mark on the top flight as Ryan Sessegnon (more on him later) and Fulham took on Crystal Palace.

But it was Wan-Bissaka who emerged as the starlet on the day as he outshone Sessegnon in a 2-0 win, and has not looked back since. A converted winger, the right-back was called into the U21s setup for the first time earlier this season and has been a silver lining in a concerning season so far at Selhurst Park.

He still has plenty to learn and England have depth at right-back, but his ability on the ball and speed down the flank make the 20-year-old a perfect fit to follow on from the likes of Kyle Walker further down the line.

Angus Gunn

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Just last week one Southampton goalkeeper made his international debut, when Alex McCarthy replaced Jordan Pickford at half-time against the United States.

But it is his understudy at St. Mary’s who could well provide Southgate with further options between the sticks for years to come.

Pictures: Nations League finalists combined XI (Read Sport)

Angus Gunn, 22, arrived at Southampton from Manchester City for £13.5million last summer and is seen as the long-term option on the south coast after McCarthy was called upon to replace a woefully out-of-form Fraser Forster last season.

Son of former Scotland international Bryan, Gunn has been part of the U21 setup for three years and was handed his debut at that level by Southgate.

McCarthy is in good form at the moment, but once the shift comes at club level, an international switch will surely follow.

Ryan Sessegnon

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A few months ago there was a sense of inevitability to the ascension of Sessegnon to the senior set-up. He was already the first player from outside the top flight nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year prize, the game-changer in Fulham’s play-off run and a youngster battle-hardened by the lower leagues.

But life in the Premier League has been tough on the 18-year-old, who bore the brunt of Slavisa Jokanovic’s chopping and changing as much as any player. Stints at left-back no longer seem to suit a player whose greatest asset is an instinctive understanding of where to be and when in advanced areas.

Should Claudio Ranieri restore him to his best position, then it likely won’t be long before he is knocking on the door again.

Phil Foden

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The crown jewel for England’s U17 world champions last year is already carving out a role for himself in Pep Guardiola’s richly-talented midfield. Whether it is a part big enough to convince Southgate to move Foden into the brightest spotlight will likely be an ongoing matter for debate.

Of the 321 minutes Foden has played in the Man City side this season, 255 have come in the Community Shield and EFL Cup. The two sides whom he has managed more than 10 minutes against in the top flight are Cardiff and Southampton, in matches where Guardiola’s men had already scored four and five goals respectively by the time he has been introduced.

Reiss Nelson

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Nelson’s close friend Jadon Sancho has already established himself as a burgeoning star in the Bundesliga and a vital option for Southgate; the Arsenal winger is at least halfway there.

Few at the Emirates or St. George’s Park doubted Nelson’s talent but in Hoffenheim, under the tutelage of Julian Nagelsmann, he has found an environment conducive to the expression of those gifts. Six goals in seven Bundesliga games mark him out as, alongside Sancho, one of the form Englishman anywhere in Europe.

If he can continue that form for the remainder of the season at Hoffenheim – with Arsenal convinced that his development is better served staying in Germany for the rest of the campaign – a move to the seniors would be hard to deny.

Pictures: England's potential 2022 World Cup squad (Read Sport)

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