England manager Gareth Southgate has selection dilemmas ahead of naming his 26-man squad to travel to Qatar for the World Cup; Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett analyses the key decisions Southgate has to make before naming his squad on Thursday
James Maddison, Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire will make the headlines when Gareth Southgate names his World Cup squad on Thursday – whether they’re included on the list or not.
While I expect the Manchester United duo to both be given seats on the plane to Qatar, Maddison’s selection is still very much 50-50.
Southgate is still sweating on a number of key players who are racing to get fit enough for selection. Kalvin Phillips, Reece James and Kyle Walker are in the middle of intensive rehabilitation programmes, and also at the centre of an anxious wait.
This will be the first World Cup where nations are allowed to pick 26 players for the tournament, after new rules introduced by FIFA, and that gives the England boss a little more wriggle room.
It means Southgate can consider players who might not be fully fit as well as those who can be used as impact substitutes, overcoming some of the limitations posed by traditional 23-man squads. Southgate is no fan of the bigger squads, though he did work with a 26-strong party for last summer’s Euros.
With one full Premier League match round to go before England head to Qatar, the list that Southgate names on Thursday could still be altered, if there are last-minute injuries.
Nations are allowed to make squad alterations at any stage up to 24 hours before their first game – in England’s case, that means an ultimate deadline of November 20.
How many injured players will go to Qatar?
With a number of important England players recovering from injury, a key question is – how many of those can Southgate risk including?
Former England managers Roy Hodgson and Sven Goran Eriksson have both told me that taking injured players to a major tournament is fraught with problems and can be disruptive – there are painful memories of Wayne Rooney and his broken metatarsals in 2006, and of the same injury that saw a semi-fit David Beckham go to Japan and South Korea in 2002.
The fact that this World Cup is uniquely mid-season – with no time for warm-up games and precious little training time before (and during) the tournament itself – only adds to the problems for players who are nursing injuries.
And so while Phillips, Walker and James were vital members of England’s run to the final of the Euros just 16 months ago, it’s doubtful the England boss can include such a large number of unfit players in this squad. One or two might be able to manage their workload and build fitness during the tournament – three or four probably can’t.
There is a sense that the tournament will come too soon for James. That will be devastating for the Chelsea man, who before his knee injury was probably England’s first-choice right-back. But there is no way Southgate can have two unfit right-backs in Qatar, and Walker, I’m told, is much further ahead in his recovery from groin surgery at the start of last month.
Even if Walker is named in the squad, it’s likely he will have only a bit-part to play in the first group games.
The same is true of Phillips, who was named England’s Player of the Year in September – just as he was undergoing shoulder surgery. He’s played less than 20 minutes of football all season and is being gently re-integrated into the Manchester City team. Phillips’ involvement is touch and go. Even if he is fit, he is a long way from being match fit.
Perhaps the biggest selection debate of all surrounds Maddison. His statistics are undeniable – 30 goal involvements since the start of last season, three more than any other English player.
His form is making him impossible to ignore, and the enlarged squad means he could yet be Southgate’s wild card selection – that player with the X-factor, who England take because he’s special.
England legend Gary Lineker says it would be a travesty if the Leicester talisman was overlooked.
But what has always dogged Maddison’s international involvement is the system that Southgate plays and the number and quality of other attacking options England possess.
Southgate will have a specific number of creative, attacking options he wants to take. Probably six or seven, as it was for the Euros. So, with Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka guaranteed a spot – and Marcus Rashford also likely – is there space for Maddison too?
If the England boss wants seven forwards, then yes. If he wants six, to use the extra body to cover a weakened defence, then no.
And if England need a goal in the second half of a knockout game, will Southgate turn to Maddison the maverick ahead of Grealish the guru?
These are the tough questions the England boss will be asking himself.
Furthermore, Southgate is adamant in his demands that every player must fit into the squad ethos, and for reasons few can explain, Maddison’s face doesn’t seem to fit. One England cap (against Montenegro three years ago) is quite frankly criminal, for a player of his quality.
Jadon Sancho has similarly suffered with the abundance of English attacking talent. His lack of game-time for Manchester United since mid-October because of illness reaffirms he is likely to miss out again.
Who is understudy to Harry Kane? That is another dilemma facing Southgate.
Rashford has been playing regularly as Manchester United’s number nine, and has returned to form under Erik ten Hag. He would have been included in the September squad, had a minor injury not thwarted him.
I expect Rashford to be included in the World Cup squad.
Doubts over England’s back-up strikers, together with his versatility in playing wide, make him a really strong candidate.
In recent times, Tammy Abraham has been Southgate’s go-to man, the first sub off the rank when Kane needs a rest. Especially, since Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s injury nightmare.
But Abraham didn’t play a minute of football in the last international break, which leads to question marks over whether Southgate is convinced he can rely on the Roma man. Remember, England were behind and chasing the game against both Italy and Germany, but Abraham remained warming the bench.
The 25-year-old flourished last year under Jose Mourinho but he has struggled so far this season, with only three goals to his name.
That has opened a window of opportunity for others, notably Callum Wilson and Ivan Toney, who may be battling with each other for a place in the squad.
Neither is ideal from Southgate’s perspective. Whilst Toney was called up for the first time in September, he didn’t make his international debut, so to throw him straight into a World Cup would be a risk, despite his excellent form.
He has though, scored six goals in his last eight Premier League matches.
read more… https://www.skysports.com/football/news/12098/12741238/trent-rashford-in-but-maddison-50-50-southgate-weighs-up-final-decisions
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