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Nine weeks before the World Cup and the problems are piling up for England manager Gareth Southgate.
Injuries, a lack of club-level playing time for key players and no recognized understudy from Harry Kane are issues that threaten England’s preparation.
Ahead of the double header against Italy and Germany, Sportsmail examines the concerns Southgate is facing.
England boss faces some headaches just weeks after Qatar 2022 starts
What if Pickford is still injured?
As for knowing his first pick, goalkeeper isn’t an area of great concern to Southgate. Jordan Pickford is his undisputed number 1.
However, the unavailability of the Everton man due to a thigh injury for the final two games before the tournament highlights a nagging problem. What if Pickford is out? There is no obvious candidate to replace him.
Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale and Dean Henderson, who are the three in the roster this week, have a total of 12 caps compared to Pickford’s 45.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has proved doubters wrong in establishing himself as the definitive first choice – but his condition is a concern
Aaron Ramsdale can claim the England No.1 jersey if Pickford is injured
Elsewhere, Brazil’s No. 2 Ederson has 18 caps, while first-choice Alisson has 55. Germany’s recognized number 1 goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has 116 caps compared to second in-line Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s 28.
The Nations League games will give Pope and Ramsdale a chance to claim their claim as Pickford’s understudy.
Don’t be surprised to see both get a chance in the coming week. Henderson, the beneficiary of Pickford’s absence, will likely need an injury if he is to stand a chance of making the plane.
How can Maguire be in the base?
There is no ambiguity about who Southgate considers to be his two strongest centre-backs: Harry Maguire and John Stones. Stones plays regularly for Manchester City and that will be a huge relief for the English manager.
Maguire, however, is having a hard time under new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag.
Since being dropped four weeks ago for the game against Liverpool, Maguire has only played 10 minutes in the Premier League.
He got a start in the Europa League against Real Sociedad – a match United lost – but stayed on the bench until the last minute against Moldovan side FC Sheriff last week.
Maguire’s prospects of returning to the United team seem far off. The 29-year-old was named by Southgate last week when he expressed fears over England’s chances in Qatar due to a lack of first-team action from some of his stars.
Harry Maguire’s lack of action for Manchester United gives Southgate another headache
The only way Maguire’s predicament is likely to change is through injuries to other United players.
That leaves Southgate in a tight position. The England manager has emphasized on numerous occasions that his players need to be regularly involved at club level if they are to make his roster.
There are exceptions for certain members and Maguire falls into that category. Will he make the World Cup squad if his peripheral club role continues? Probably. Starting him, however, is harder to justify.
Eric Dier’s resurgence should allay Southgate’s concerns. The Tottenham defender is in the form of his career in the middle half and that, coupled with his experience at major tournaments, should be a factor.
Southgate is known to be a big fan of Marc Guehi, but the Crystal Palace defender, Fikayo Tomori and Conor Coady have no experience playing in a major international senior tournament.
Coady was selected for the Euro 2020 squad, but did not play a minute.
Eric Dier’s resurgence may alleviate some of the questions Southgate is facing ahead of the tournament
Should he leave Alexander-Arnold at home?
We’ve had all the jokes about Southgate selecting a right-back squad, but at this stage it’s no longer a laughing matter. Kyle Walker is a certainty and if England play with a four-man defense the Manchester City man will start at right-back.
If Southgate switches to a back-three, Walker will play alongside Stones and another at the heart of the defence, with Reece James likely to play right-back.
The Chelsea man’s versatility is a big bonus for Southgate, James can also play as a right-back and central defence. Walker and James as right-sided defense options would usually suffice. But that would mean leaving Trent Alexander-Arnold behind.
Can Trent Alexander-Arnold be trusted defensively by Southgate against top opponents?
The fact that England can select 26 players instead of the usual 23 means Southgate can accommodate three right-backs – but is that a waste of a slot, especially when Kieran Trippier can play on either flank?
Southgate seems to need to be convinced about Alexander-Arnold. His ability going forward is undisputed, but Southgate seems unsure of the Liverpool star’s defensive capabilities. That makes Alexander-Arnold vulnerable.
It’s not clearer on the left either. Under normal circumstances, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell would be selected. There isn’t a regular club-level game either, but unlike right-backs, there aren’t many other options.
The fact that no alternative was chosen on this squad suggests no one is in the running to make a late World Cup bid, although Brentford’s Rico Henry has reportedly impressed the England staff, while Tyrick Mitchell, who was called up last season, remains on the job. the radar.
Will he finally unleash Jude Bellingham?
Whether Southgate deploys a three-man or two-man midfield, Declan Rice is the only certainty to be selected. Southgate places great value on the West Ham star, but who will play alongside him is up for debate.
Under normal circumstances, you would think Kalvin Phillips would perform, but he will be withdrawn from the roster today and will undergo surgery to heal a shoulder complaint that has haunted the midfielder for over 12 months.
England are confident Phillips will recover in time, but he may not be a guaranteed starter in Qatar.
Perhaps the biggest dilemma for Southgate is whether Jude Bellingham should finally be let go. For many, the Borussia Dortmund teenager should be one of the first names on the team sheet. It’s hard to disagree as he is a phenomenal footballer.
Jude Bellingham has always been present for Borussia Dortmund and can finally be let go
Southgate is much more cautious. He’s been criticized for it – which is nonsense, given England finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup and second at the 2020 European Championship – but it’s definitely time to kick Bellingham into his base.
The decision can be made easier if Phillips is not fit. It will be interesting to see if Southgate feels the same, or if he returns to Jordan Henderson’s experience.
If Southgate uses a three-man midfield, Mason Mount has a good chance of playing. Southgate loves the Chelsea star’s defensive discipline. Mount has been met with quite a bit of criticism, but the 23-year-old takes Southgate’s instructions to the limit – a manager’s dream.
Where’s Kane’s backup?
If all goes well, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden will lead England’s attack. In broad ranges of attack, England are well blessed: Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka all have real business to start England’s opening game against Iran on November 21.
If Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho continue their promising start to the season, they can join in too.
But the opportunities of the England striker behind Kane remain a major problem. Ivan Toney, who got his first international call-up last week, will have the chance to make his way to Southgate’s World Cup party.
He will almost certainly make his debut in the coming games and an impressive display could see the Brentford striker propel himself to a position where he is seen as Kane’s number 2.
England have plentiful forward options but no clear backup to first-choice Harry Kane
Ivan Toney became the first Brentford player since 1939 to be selected for an England squad
Tammy Abraham’s impressive spell in Italy, where he played for Roma, has had him revoked in recent months, but the fact that he played just 65 minutes in England’s four summer internationals suggests Southgate still needs to be convinced he is an alternative for Kane.
With that in mind, Rashford’s ability to offer something different down the middle, while also being able to play wide, will likely be considered when Southgate makes the final decisions on his World Cup roster.
The Manchester United star was almost recalled for the next two games, but a muscle injury prevented his participation.
Marcus Rashford was close to returning to the England squad but a muscle injury prevented it