25 March 2024

Gareth Southgate feels England absentee list will help with Euro 2024 decisions

25 March 2024

Gareth Southgate believes England’s “incredible” injury list will help him make better decisions around his Euro 2024 selection.

Already without a number of regulars for the March camp, Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and Sam Johnstone on Sunday evening followed Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane in withdrawing from the squad after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Brazil.

But England’s eye-watering list of absentees have allowed Southgate to take a closer look at up-and-coming options, with Anthony Gordon, Ezri Konsa and Kobbie Mainoo making their debuts against the Selecao.

More changes are planned for the final friendly before he names an expanded Euros squad on May 21, with one-cap Ivan Toney set to lead the line after Ollie Watkins played at the weekend.

“Ivan will be involved in the game, for sure,” Southgate said. “I have to say, with everything that’s happened, the original idea or plan for the week is a little bit different in that we’re probably finding out about more players.

“But also that’s really helpful. To see all of those players against high level of opposition will help us to make better decisions moving forward.

“You can’t worry about what we haven’t got. You’ve got to move forward.

“There’s a lot of different reasons for those injuries. I think it is more complex than just people looking back to a winter World Cup, but every individual situation is different, frankly.

“It’s an incredible number that are unavailable to us – haven’t experienced that before – but, as I said earlier, that means there are opportunities for other people.

“We saw against Brazil people really step up and take those opportunities, which is great for us as well.”

Sunday’s trio of withdrawals saw Rico Lewis, who made his debut against North Macedonia in November, and uncapped James Trafford follow Mainoo in being promoted from the under-21s.

Highly rated defender Jarrad Branthwaite is pushing to make his debut against Belgium, with Declan Rice captaining the side on his 50th England appearance as Southgate said Jordan Henderson is “not unavailable to us this time”.

Cole Palmer could feature, having recovered from an issue that kept him out against Brazil, and the England boss looking forward to Tuesday’s clash between the sides third and fourth in FIFA’s world rankings.

“It’s obviously a new generation, if you like, bar (Romelu) Lukaku, (Jan) Vertonghen, I suppose (Timothy) Castagne to a degree,” he told the PA news agency. “But from that team from 2018, a big evolution.

“I think (head coach) Domenico (Tedesco) has done a very good job to this point through the qualifying campaign.

“I would expect wingers that are very good in one-against-one situations, whichever of the selections they make – probably (Jeremy) Doku, (Dodi) Lukebakio, but could be (Johan) Bakayoko from PSV as well.

“They have good midfield players that we’re aware of from the Premier League and also a defensive line that three of the four have probably played in the Premier League as well.

“It’s a really good test. Different to Brazil, although the threat in transitions and counter-attacks is similar.

“Given the changes we’re having to make as well, it’s going to test us in every area of the game.”

Belgium would certainly provide an interesting test for 18-year-old Mainoo, who only made his first Premier League start for Manchester United on November 26.

A first England start would continue a rapid ascent that has led to comparisons with the teenage international breakthroughs of Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney.

“I think he is doing really, really well for a young player,” Southgate said. “Those two were world stars at 17, 18.

“Rooney before his first major championship was already in that stratosphere. Michael was propelled into that during the World Cup.

“I played with both of those when they arrived. Wayne was one of the best we have had. Kobbie is still developing.

“In terms of progress into our squad, he is benefitting because we are not as rich in resources in that area, but we are really happy to see how he has dealt with training and we see things he can bring already.

“I am mindful that we have to look after him and make sure his development is at the right speed, but the opportunities are there as well.”

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