Marcus Rashford’s lack of form, what to do with the goalkeepers, injury scares to key players and should those pushing for call-ups be rewarded… Gareth Southgate’s dilemmas ahead of his England squad announcement
- England are set to take on Malta and North Macedonia in Euro 2024 qualifiers
- The Three Lions qualified for the tournament with two games to spare last month
- CHRIS SUTTON: Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is a clown – It’s All Kicking Off!
The Premier League is preparing to take a short break after another captivating month of action with drama and entertainment galore.
International football returns in its place next week for the third successive month as European nations battle it out to secure one of the 20 automatic qualification spots for Euro 2024, before the play-offs for the other three spaces take place in March next year.
It could prove to be a critical juncture for national team managers, with this the last international break until the time of the play-offs, as they desperately try to finalise plans ahead of next summer’s tournament.
For England – who secured qualification with an impressive 3-1 win over Italy last month – they face North Macedonia and Malta in what are effectively two meaningless games, given they are guaranteed to finish first in their group.
However, there is still plenty for Gareth Southgate to tinker with and work out and below, Mail Sport takes a look at the selection issues facing the Three Lions boss ahead of his squad announcement on Thursday.
England qualified for Euro 2024 last month after a superb 3-1 win against Italy at Wembley
But Gareth Southgate is still facing several selection issues ahead of this month’s matches
Marcus Rashford’s lack of form
Ever since Southgate took charge of England in 2016, Raheem Sterling has been his undoubted first choice option on the left side of attack.
However, the Chelsea forward hasn’t made an England squad since the World Cup due to a combination of injury and falling out-of-favour, with Southgate admitting last month Sterling was ‘not particularly happy’ at being left out.
But with Sterling’s absence it has opened up a void on the left, with Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford the two players most well-equipped to compete for that position.
However, since the nation fell in love with Grealish at Euro 2020, the Manchester City man has struggled to fulfil anything other than an impact substitute role for England.
Meanwhile, Southgate has a problem with Rashford, given the Man United forward is woefully out of form.
He did score a fine goal against Italy in October, but has just one goal and one assist in 10 Premier League games, while he was also reprimanded by Erik ten Hag last week for gong out partying after Man United’s 3-0 defeat by Man City.
It is likely that Rashford will still be called up, but it will be intriguing to see what other options Southgate includes who can play on the left, and he also needs to find a way to help Rashford return to his best.
Gareth Southgate faces a challenge to help Marcus Rashford return to form with England
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Reece James back in contention
While England may have a shortage of options in other position, there is no doubting their strength in depth at right back.
Kyle Walker is seemingly first choice, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier could easily lay claim to being among the top three right backs in the Premier League alongside the Man City man.
And this is without throwing in the returning Reece James, who has recently recovered from a hamstring injury and impressed on his first league start back during Chelsea’s frenetic 4-1 victory over Tottenham on Monday.
It seems as if Southgate is set to use Alexander-Arnold in a midfield role, while Trippier has filled in at left back, but again it highlights the high level of competition.
The England boss may chose to rest James and let him continue his recovery given his troubled injury record, but once he is fully fit it poses a problem as four right backs in his 23-man squad next summer does seem excessive, meaning one of the quartet may be extremely unlucky to miss out.
Reece James is back and available for selection for games against Malta and North Macedonia
Southgate is blessed with options at right back with Kyle Walker (left), Kieran Trippier (right) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (not pictured) all competing for the role with James
Injury scares to key players
Given England have already qualified for Euro 2024, Southgate may use this international break as an opportunity to take a look at more players.
For example, Mail Sport understands Eberechi Eze is set to be included in the squad after missing the past month with a hamstring injury, and he could be provided with chances due to Southgate’s lengthening list of absentees.
John Stones limped off at half-time during Man City’s 3-0 victory over Young Boys on Tuesday and Pep Guardiola later admitted he is set to be out for a while.
Stones and the much-maligned Harry Maguire have been Southgate’s undisputed first-choice centre-back pairing during his tenure and with the City defender’s absence, the likes of Levi Colwill, Lewis Dunk, Marc Guehi and perhaps even Fikayo Tomori are set to receive more opportunities to stake their claim for a place in the side.
Jude Bellingham is among the injury scares Southgate must deal with for this month’s fixtures
In midfield, Jude Bellingham picked up a shoulder injury during Real Madrid’s 0-0 draw with Rayo Vallecano at the weekend, with Carlo Ancelotti saying it would be assessed post-game.
However, if it is causing Bellingham trouble, this would provide another opportunity for Southgate to try out different midfield combinations, with the Los Blancos star set to be England’s most important player in Germany next summer.
He could also probably do with a few weeks of rest – particularly as England have already qualified.
There is similar concern over James Maddison after he exited Tottenham’s chaotic defeat by Chelsea in the first half with an ankle injury, meaning Southgate could be without three key players for this month’s fixtures.
What to do at left back?
Southgate created a bit of noise last month when he didn’t select a single recognised left back in his squad, with Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw out injured.
The pair are both still absent and it looks likely he will go without a natural left-sided option again, which in truth could help solve the aforementioned huge competition at right back.
Newcastle’s Dan Burn had been touted for a call-up but he is now injured, while Crystal Palace’s Tyrick Mitchell has not added to the two caps he won in March 2022 – with Mail Sport reporting last month how Jamaica are now targeting his services.
There does seen to be a shortage of English options at left back and while Tino Livramento has impressed there in recent weeks, the Newcastle defender is again a natural right back, meaning it looks as if Trippier will most likely fill in there.
It is similar situation in the Under 21s, with centre back Bashir Humphreys playing on the left during recent international fixtures.
There is also the option of Levi Colwill if Southgate prefers a left-footed option, with the defender having featured at left back for Chelsea in recent weeks and against Australia last month, but it remains an uncertain position within England’s squad when Shaw and Chilwell are out.
Levi Colwill will compete with Kieran Trippier at left back with Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell out
Should those pushing for a call-up be rewarded?
One criticism of England between reaching the Euro 2020 final and their World Cup campaign in Qatar last year was that only Jude Bellingham managed to break into the first choice team during the intervening period.
It must be acknowledged that Southgate possesses a settled side, meaning the competition is fierce to force a way into his squad.
However, after England’s youngsters won the Under-21 Euros in the summer, a couple of stars from Lee Carsley’s side are firmly knocking on the door, particularly in attacking areas.
Eyebrows were raised after Cole Palmer’s £42.5m move to Chelsea, but the former Man City youngster has quickly silenced the doubters with three goals and two assists in eight Premier League matches.
Cole Palmer is knocking on the door for an England call-up after a fine run of form for Chelsea
Anthony Gordon has backed up winning the Player of the Tournament at the Under 21 Euros
For Palmer, it is now a question of when, not if, he will receive his first senior call-up, although given the plethora of attacking options at Southgate’s disposal, he may hold off for now.
Meanwhile, Anthony Gordon took time to adapt to Newcastle after making a big money move for £45m earlier this year, but he has continued his fine form after being named as Player of the Tournament at the summer’s Euros.
Gordon has been one of the stars of the season so far for Eddie Howe’s side, with four goals and two assists in the top flight.
Again, Southgate may wait on that one but it is good for the health of English football that there are plenty of promising youngsters knocking on the door.
What to do with the goalkeepers?
While Jordan Pickford is Southgate’s first choice in goal, the two keepers that will follow him on the plane to Germany provides plenty of debate for England fans.
Aaron Ramsdale seemed to have solidified himself as back-up to Pickford, but given his lack of gametime at Arsenal, can Southgate justify still picking him?
Meanwhile, Nick Pope has been left out of the squad for both of this season’s international breaks, but has remained in impressive form.
Sam Johnstone was preferred to Pope, and the pair have kept the joint-most clean sheets in the Premier League with five.
Aaron Ramsdale could lose his England place after falling out-of-favour at Arsenal
Elsewhere, there is slim pickings with Jason Steele, Wes Foderingham and James Trafford the only other English keepers playing regularly in the Premier League right now.
It seems as if Johnstone has done enough to keep his place, so the real selection dilemma will be whether Southgate sticks with Ramsdale or brings Pope back into the fold.
Either way, the decision is set to only increase the debate around England’s goalkeepers and the Raya-Ramsdale battle at Arsenal.
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