OPINION: Southgate's loyalty can only take England so far

OPINION: Southgate's loyalty can only take England so far
Southgate is reaching a crossroads with England
Southgate is reaching a crossroads with England
Despite two wins in their opening Euro 2024 qualifying games against Italy and Ukraine, many supporters were again left frustrated at some of England manager Gareth Southgate's squad and subsequent team selections.

England recorded an impressive 2-1 win against Italy before dispatching Ukraine 2-0 at Wembley just three days later.

Unfortunately, as seems to consistently be the case with Southgate, lots of supporters were disappointed with his team selection across the international break.

The decision to play Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips against Italy was heavily scrutinised and despite the former making an error leading to a goal, he retained his place for the win against Ukraine.

It seems almost inevitable now that these players - who have no doubt served Southgate superbly in the past - will make their way into the England squad regardless of their club form.

Maguire has struggled for minutes in the Premier League for Manchester United this season while Phillips is yet to start a league match for Manchester City, raising questions over their inclusion in the England squad.

The same goes for some fringe players, with the likes of Eric Dier, Kyle Walker, Jordan Henderson and Conor Gallagher all being included despite either a lack of minutes or a dip in form for their respective club sides.

While this hasn't yet had any negative implications on the pitch for the Three Lions, it isn't a viable long-term solution for Southgate when it comes to getting the best out of the players available to him.

Factor in the fact it also means some players miss out on making the squad regardless of how well they are playing across the season, and it seems like something will have to change for Southgate sooner rather than later.

Limiting opportunity

The first name that springs to mind when considering players that are unfairly left out of the England squad on a regular basis is that of Fikayo Tomori.

Tomori has excelled since leaving Chelsea in 2021 to join AC Milan, becoming a mainstay in Stefano Pioli's team and helping them win their first Serie A trophy in over ten years.

The defender has also played a role in their run to the Champions League quarter-finals during the current campaign and has displayed all the characteristics you would expect of an England international.

Despite this, both Maguire and Dier feature ahead of him when it comes to the national team selection even though their club form has been either non-existent (in the case of Maguire) or average at best for Dier.

Marc Guehi also gets included in the squad before Tomori does, despite playing in a poor Crystal Palace side that hasn't won a game since before the World Cup.

The same situation arises at right-back with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben White - one of the Premier League's top performers - missing out to Walker, Reece James (who has played six times in 2023) and Kieran Trippier.

It can also be seen in midfield, with James Ward-Prowse the most notable player being over-looked in favour of those who have either barely played or have been far from their best.

It seems the only way for outsiders to get in to Southgate's tight-knit group is by virtually forcing their way through almost undeniable form - see Ivan Toney and James Maddison in recent months.

Even still, a drop in club form over the remaining weeks of the season would likely mean they are the first names ready to be replaced in the England set-up, regardless of the ongoing poor performances of those around them.

The Euro 2024 qualifiers offer a good opportunity to shake up the team and start to bed in some new players, but it doesn't appear that any changes are on the horizon.

Of course, this approach has so far served Southgate well and has brought clear success in reaching a World Cup quarter-final, semi-final and the final of Euro 2020.

However, as England's core group of players that served so well in the past continue to age and their form slowly drops off, it seems clear that Southgate is coming to a crossroads in regard to where he places his loyalty - and the remaining Euro 2024 qualifiers will be a big test for the Three Lions' manager.


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