Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne impressing
5 February ~ England have a wealth of available choices at centre-back but are in need of options at full-back. Ashley Cole's contract extension at Chelsea should result in an extension of his international career and Leighton Baines is the heir apparent but suitable alternatives are few and far between. On the other flank, England have lacked an undisputed first-choice right-back since Gary Neville's retirement. Kyle Walker appeared to be the clear favourite but has struggled for form this season and his claim looks less assured than it did this time last year.
His Tottenham team-mate Kyle Naughton has improved under André Villas-Boas but has yet to hold down a regular spot on either flank. Arsenal also have a pair of capable contenders for both spots in Carl Jenkinson and Kieran Gibbs, who have both agreed new long-term deals recently. Yet it could be argued that the best options are operating in tandem at a far less fashionable club.
Luke Shaw is a product of Southampton's academy and made his first-team debut only 12 months ago, aged 16. Chelsea failed with a £4 million offer for him in the summer and Shaw is expected to sign a five-year deal when he turns 18 in July. He was promoted to the senior squad during pre-season and made his first start against Swansea in November. Since then, he has become a first-team regular.
Installed in a defence that had conceded 27 goals in the previous ten games, Southampton's form subsequently improved, letting in only five in the next seven games. They also recorded a couple of clean sheets, their first of the season, while climbing out of the bottom three. A regular in the England Under-17s team, Shaw will hope to emulate fellow academy graduate Adam Lallana, who recently received his first call up for the senior side. Lallana, his captain at Southampton, has spoken of Shaw's "astonishing" calmness while FA director of football development Trevor Brooking has also referred to him as "technically very gifted".
Nathaniel Clyne is a veteran by compassion. The 21-year-old made his Crystal Palace debut at 17 in a televised 3-0 win against Barnsley and soon became a regular. He became the youngest player in Football League history to start every single game in a season, during the 2010-11 campaign, and was subsequently voted Palace's Player of the Year. He made 137 appearances for the club before departing in the summer, agreeing a four-year deal with Southampton despite interest from Manchester United and Newcastle. Lured by the promise of regular first-team football, Clyne has missed only three league games this season.
Both Clyne and Shaw were selected for the Under-21 team's friendly with Sweden today, though Shaw has since had to pull out with injury. Should they manage to replicate their league performances, swift promotion to the senior side may soon follow. Scott Johnson