Players struggle at club level
If Gareth Southgate picks players based on reputation rather than form, he could have problems. The England manager believes he was right to consider international performance when choosing his squad, but with several key figures struggling at club level, it will be seen how far Southgate’s loyalty can go ahead of the World Cup will be fun.
There are problems in every way. At left-back, there are concerns that Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell has recently returned from a serious knee injury, while Luke Shaw has lost his place at Manchester United. Midfielder Calvin Phillips missed the training camp with a shoulder problem and has barely played since joining City. Further forward Mason Mount has endured a slump at Chelsea, while Jarrod Bowen has been underwhelming at West Ham this season. Is Bowen really better than Jadon Sancho?
And then there’s Harry Maguire. The Manchester United centre-back presented Southgate with his biggest dilemma. Will he follow in Erik 10 Hag’s footsteps and drop him? United are far more solid without Maguire and if he doesn’t play for the club there is no reason for Southgate to start him. Fikayo Tomori is playing every week for Milan, who won the Serie A title last season, while Eric Dier has been outstanding for Tottenham.
The next three or four?
England’s disastrous start to their Nations League campaign could make Southgate more pragmatic. Memories of Hungary’s riots in Molyneux are still raw, and it would be no surprise if England line up in a 3-4-3 formation against Italy on Friday and Germany on Monday.
Much depends, however, on how Southgate builds the squad. As full-backs, Reece James and Chilwell would be options to improve. A smooth top three can be exciting. Declan Rice’s attacking partner in midfield could be a game-changer.
Worryingly, though, Southgate has turned negative. Perhaps England lack centre-backs to play a 4-3-3, but the argument against caution is that they have little shortage of creative players. Is it time for them to play to their strengths?
Decision on Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold is a great football player. His passing is amazing, his range is very good and he is often one of Liverpool’s best creators. That doesn’t mean he will definitely play in the World Cup. It’s hard to ignore Alexander-Arnold’s defensive struggles at Liverpool. He is not the same player in England. He doesn’t play for Southgate, who usually prefers the less exciting but more reliable Kieran Trippier, and feels Alexander-Arnold needs this camp to run smoothly. Otherwise, it’s hard to see the point of Southgate cramming four right-backs into his squad.
Get the most out of Foden
Phil Foden is exciting ahead of Euro 2020. The Manchester City teenager had dyed blond hair that inevitably drew parallels to Paul Gascoigne’s Euro ’96, but he ended up disappointing in the game for reasons largely beyond his control.
It’s frustrating for Foden, whose international career has yet to start. However, England need to figure out how to use him. This is a player Guardiola trusts, having used Foden as a winger, a false 9, 10 and 8. England, who have not scored in open competition in their last four games, need to capitalize on Foden’s creativity.
Dependence on Kane and Sterling
Southgate needs more attackers from him. England are too reliant on goals from Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. Mount needs to take more responsibility on the ball and Southgate hopes Bowen, Bukayo Saka and Jack Greeley can emulate Sterling and score from the wide.
England are out of date in attack. The threat comes from Kane, but what if the captain doesn’t serve, has a bad game or is injured? Southgate needs depth. For now, though, Tammy Abraham has yet to prove he’s a suitable second-in-command. First-time call-up Ivan Toni wants to prove he can be England’s plan B. It’s a concern for Southgate, who could allow Marcus Rashford to recover from the injury that forced the Manchester United forward to miss these games. Rashford has shown signs of returning to his best, having unloaded Kane and Sterling in the past.