England manager Gareth Southgate is ready to hand uncapped youngsters Dominic Solanke and Lewis Cook senior international debuts against a Brazil team that he regards as the best in the world on Tuesday at Wembley.
Former Chelsea academy star Solanke, who joined Liverpool in the summer, is yet to start a Premier League match while Bournemouth midfielder Cook has begun just eight top-flight games.
Both were key figures in England’s Under-20 World Cup win earlier this year, however, and – with a raft of regular first-team players absent – Southgate is keen to tap into the unprecedented success of the country’s age-group sides.
“We have to see how the game progresses but I won’t have any hesitation in putting them on the pitch,” said Southgate, who also called Manchester City goalkeeper Angus Gunn, 21, into the squad at the weekend.
“Angus has worked with the Under-21s, he’s playing in the league [on loan at Norwich]; the other two are captain of the Under-20 World Cup winners [Cook] and golden boot winner at the Under-20 World Cup [Solanke]. So they’ve got good pedigree and we won’t hesitate to put them on the pitch.”
Southgate was rewarded with a man-of-the-match display when he handed Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek a debut in Friday’s friendly draw with Germany and he plans to keep promoting youngsters.
“I think these two lads [Solanke and Cook] have warranted it on their performances with England over a long period of time. So the message for all of the others is ‘there is an opportunity if you keep doing well’. It’s the route we want to go,” he added.
“Maybe it’s slightly different this time in that we didn’t see the use in bringing in a couple of senior players just for a couple of days. But also we want some of these youngsters who’ve got good pedigree internationally already to have their pathway.”
Loftus-Cheek’s impressive senior bow came despite severely limited first-team opportunities at Stamford Bridge, which have forced him out on loan to Crystal Palace, and appeared to justify Southgate’s policy.
“He’s obviously taken a lot from the game, found it a great experience and felt he was learning throughout it,” he said.
“It’s incredible really that he’s had so few 90-minute appearances in the league that we’re putting him into that sort of environment. But we believe in him, he did really well. Sometimes the first game is easier because nobody is ware of you.”
Southgate praised Eric Dier’s captaincy credentials as he confirmed that the Tottenham midfielder, who also shone against Germany, would retain the armband despite the possible return of Gary Cahill and Joe Hart.
“I think it’s good experience for him. Being the captain on the pitch is one element of being a captain and then showing leadership around the rest of the time we’re in camp is another part,” he said.
“The on-field part might help to raise the level of your performance and the level of ownership and responsibility, but the bigger picture is we want some of these young lads to feel the responsibility a bit more.”
Southgate warned that England would be punished for an under-par display on Tuesday by a Brazil team who qualified for next summer’s World Cup in Russia at a canter.
“We’re playing the best team in the world who’ve annihilated everyone in South American qualification, which is the hardest way to the finals,” he said. “So we have to be spot-on to have a chance of winning the game.”