‘Supporting our best players’ – is Southgate’s loyalty too big a risk?

'Supporting our best players' - is Southgate's loyalty too big a risk?
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Harry Maguire and Gareth Southgate
Harry Maguire played 180 minutes for England this international break, just 10 fewer than he has for Manchester United in the Premier League this season

England’s Gareth Southgate says he must ‘back on our best players’ after a dramatic draw against Germany but with the Three Lions heading to the World Cup after six games without a win, is the manager’s loyalty ‘too big a risk’?

Southgate’s side reached a EURO final just over a year ago, but England are now on their longest run without a win since 1993 and have been relegated to the second tier of the Nations League.

However, there were signs of encouragement ahead of the World Cup in November in Qatar as hosts went from 0:2 to 3:3 with Germany at Wembley.

Goals from Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and a Harry Kane penalty seemed to have turned the game in England’s favor before Kai Havertz – who doubled Germany’s lead in the first half after Ilkay Gündogan’s opener with a penalty – added his second goal late to equalise.

Shaw and Manchester United team-mate Harry Maguire, who conceded the penalty, are among the players Southgate has been asked to select due to lack of playing time for their club.

“I know everyone’s focus will be on Harry but there were some very important moments that Harry delivered over the two games,” said Southgate, also referring to Friday’s 1-0 defeat in Italy.

“Luke was another example of someone who is an outstanding footballer, so what do we do? Don’t we pick Luke Shaw because he doesn’t play football enough or do we pick a player who can do what you saw tonight?

“It’s always going to spark discussion, but I think in those moments we have to support our best and most experienced players, unless we’re in a situation where it’s almost untenable and impossible to pick them.”

“England players asked for meetings”

England were relegated from the top division of the Nations League on Friday after losing to Italy in Milan and had not scored in five open-game games before Monday’s thrilling draw at Wembley Stadium.

Southgate said the performance showed his group “really came together this week” and that it’s been a “tough time for the team but they’ve grown”.

“One of the things was that they were asked if they could have a meeting alone to discuss things,” he said. “That was such a positive sign for me.

“The best football teams obviously need excellent leadership from the coaching staff and everything else, but the best teams have a real core of players who drive things forward.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, England captain Kane added: “You saw the determination, passion and desire to wear this England shirt.

“We can go into the World Cup with positive feelings – I think you saw the real England in the last half hour of this game.”

“Important six weeks for Maguire”

At the start of the international break, one of the topics of conversation was who would start at centre-back, but Southgate opted to stay with Maguire despite being on the bench for Manchester United’s last four Premier League games.

The 29-year-old’s mistakes in this game will put his place under closer scrutiny but Southgate has a strong history of decision-making.

Liverpool full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold was ruled out on Matchday 23, with Southgate routinely favoring Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Tripper in recent years despite the former’s impressive form.

James Maddison has been left out of the squad despite scoring seven goals and scoring four more in his last 10 Premier League games.

“Gareth is loyal to the players who have not let him down in the past,” former England striker Chris Sutton told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“A bigger problem is going to be when these guys get very little playing time over the next few months. This is going to be a big problem.

“It’s going to be a huge problem for the first game. It’s a big risk and maybe a risk that goes too far.”

Former England midfielder Joe Cole added on Channel 4: “Harry Maguire was scrutinized before the game and he made a mistake.

“The next six weeks are really important in Harry’s career. Every day is a chance to build your confidence.”

“Build a team around Bellingham”

A bright spot after Friday’s draw and loss to Italy in Milan was the performance of 19-year-old midfielder Jude Bellingham, who won the penalty and was full of energy and quality.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder had the most touches (67), attempted the most passes (45) and completed the most accurate passes (41) of any Englishman.

He also had three shots – the most by an English player – and was a key figure in England’s high, aggressive second-half pressing, making six tackles in the German penalty area, the most by an English player.

Sutton said England “need to build a team around Jude Bellingham”.

“Everything Bellingham has done has been positive,” Sutton added. “He’s always looked forward to going forward and he doesn’t go the easy option.

“Bellingham has wonderful awareness and courage. When you have such a young and talented player, why wouldn’t you want to build a team around him?”

Monday’s game was Bellingham’s fifth start in six Nations League games this season and Everton winger Andros Townsend says he has “probably cemented his place” ahead of the World Cup.

“He’s such a special talent,” Townsend said on BBC Radio 5 Live. “He’s so brave on the ball and not scared of the occasion or who he’s playing or who he’s playing for.”

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