Big problems facing Southgate ahead of the World Cup

Players struggling at club level

Gareth Southgate risks trouble if he picks players on reputation rather than form. The England manager has argued that he is right to consider international performances when selecting a team, however, with a number of key people struggling at club level, it will be interesting to see how far Southgate’s loyal streak stretches ahead of the World Cup.

There are problems across the board. At left back there are concerns about Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell, who has recently returned from a serious knee injury, and Luke Shaw, who has lost his place at Manchester United. In midfield, Kalvin Phillips, absent from this training camp with a shoulder problem, has barely played since he joined Manchester City. Further down the line, Mason Mount is going through a slump at Chelsea and Jarrod Bowen has been disappointing for West Ham this season. Is Bowen really a better bet than Jadon Sancho?

Then there is Harry Maguire. The United centre-back presents Southgate with his greatest enigma. Will he follow Erik ten Hag’s example and drop it? United have been much stronger without Maguire and there is no justification for Southgate to start him if he is not playing for his club. Fikayo Tomori plays every week for Milan, who won Serie A last season, and Eric Dier has excelled at Tottenham.

Three or four behind?

England’s disastrous start to their Nations League campaign could scare Southgate into becoming even more pragmatic. The memory of Hungary rampaging at Molineux lives on and it would come as no surprise if England lined up 3-4-3 when they play Italy on Friday and Germany on Monday.

However, a lot would depend on how Southgate sets up the team. Reece James and Chilwell would be progressive options at fullbacks. A flowing front three could be exciting. A strike partner for Declan Rice in midfield could be a game changer.

The concern, however, is that Southgate will veer into negativity. England may be short of centre-backs to play a 4-3-3, but the argument against caution is that they are not short of creative players. Is it time for them to play to their strengths?

Ben Chilwell (left) and Reece James at an England training session last year. They would be progressive elections on the side. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Making a decision on Alexander-Arnold

Trent Alexander-Arnold is a brilliant footballer. His crosses are amazing, his passing range is excellent and he is regularly one of Liverpool’s best creators. None of that means he’s guaranteed to go to the World Cup. It’s hard to ignore Alexander-Arnold’s defensive problems for Liverpool. He is not the same player for England. He hasn’t thrived for Southgate, who has often gone for the less exciting but more reliable Kieran Trippier, and the feeling is that Alexander-Arnold needs this camp to work. Otherwise, it’s hard to see any point in Southgate putting four right-backs into his team.

Get the best of Foden

There was a lot of hype for Phil Foden ahead of Euro 2020. The City youngster appeared with dyed blonde hair, inevitably drawing comparisons to Paul Gascoigne’s Euro 96 look, but ended up having a disappointing tournament for reasons that escape. largely under your control.

It has been frustrating for Foden, whose international career has yet to begin. However, England need to figure out how to use it. He is a trusted player of Pep Guardiola, who has used Foden at full-back, false 9, 10 and 8. England, who have not scored in open play in their last four games, need to take advantage of Foden’s inventiveness.

Phil Foden (left) in action for England against Scotland at Euro 2020.

Phil Foden (left) in action for England against Scotland at Euro 2020. Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Confidence in Kane and Sterling

Southgate needs more from his attackers. England rely too heavily on Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling for their goals. Mount needs to take more responsibility on the ball, and Southgate wants Bowen, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish to emulate Sterling by contributing goals from the wings.

England is stuck in attack. The threat comes from Kane, but what if the captain has no serve, has a bad game or gets injured? Southgate needs depth. However, as it stands, Tammy Abraham has yet to prove that he is a proper deputy. Ivan Toney, called up for the first time, will hope to show that he can be England’s Plan B. It’s a concern for Southgate, who could use Marcus Rashford to recover from the injury that has forced the United forward to miss these games. Rashford, who has shown signs of getting back to his best, has taken the load off Kane and Sterling in the past.

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