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In Focus: Issues Lion in wait for Southgate to solve before Qatar
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Matthew Storey
LiveScore
Boss Gareth Southgate has plenty to ponder ahead of England's Nations League games against Italy and Germany
Boss Gareth Southgate has plenty to ponder ahead of England's Nations League games against Italy and Germany

England have just two more matches to play before they kick off their World Cup campaign against Iran on November 21.

The Three Lions face Italy on Friday night in Milan before hosting Germany at Wembley on Monday.

And time is ticking for boss Gareth Southgate to fine-tune his plans before picking a final squad for Qatar.

Ahead of the trip to the San Siro, we look at what England's manager needs to achieve from these two intriguing Nations League games.

Picking Jordan's replacement

Jordan Pickford would have been England’s No1 without question if he had not picked up an injury two weeks ago — now that is in question.

The Everton stopper may be fine for Qatar, but Southgate needs to use this window to work out who would start if he is not.

Nick Pope has been in fine shot-stopping form, Aaron Ramsdale continues to look a top-class keeper and Dean Henderson is back playing regularly for Nottingham Forest.

It would be a surprise if a different player did not start each game — and given Southgate’s desire for his keeper to be good with his feet, it may mean it is between Ramsdale and Henderson.

Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale may have big chances to impress in Jordan Pickford's absence for England
Dean Henderson and Aaron Ramsdale may have big chances to impress in Jordan Pickford's absence for England

The good and the bad

It is a mixed bag at centre-half for Southgate — while Harry Maguire warms Manchester United’s bench, the likes of Eric Dier and Conor Coady are enjoying strong campaigns so far.

But Maguire, 29, is the manager’s go-to man at the back, he has been a mainstay for the past four years.

The Yorkshireman needs to show that he can step up to the plate for the Three Lions even when he is not playing regularly at Old Trafford.

Otherwise Southgate will have little justification to play him ahead of Coady, John Stones, Fikayo Tomori or Dier, who he praised after his first call-up in 18 months.

Southgate said: "With Eric Dier, he has been playing well for a period of time. We think it is a really close call across our centre-backs and he has deserved to be picked back in the group. 

"We know what a good character he is. He fits in with the culture and has great international experience and leadership qualities."

Harry Maguire knows he needs to produce strong displays for England as he continues to sit on the bench for Manchester United
Harry Maguire knows he needs to produce strong displays for England as he continues to sit on the bench for Manchester United

Picking the right left-back

England have got more high-class right-backs than any other country in the world — but it is not the same on the left.

Luke Shaw started all but one of the Three Lions’ games at Euro 2020 but, like Maguire, has lost his place in the XI at Old Trafford.

His understudy that tournament was Ben Chilwell, who has struggled with injuries for much of the past 12 months and is not a sure pick in the Chelsea side.

Southgate must decide what to do if the situation continues over the next six weeks in the Premier League.

Kieran Trippier, who played on the left in England's Euro 2020 opener against Croatia 15 months ago, may be given minutes during this window as a possible fix.

Rice's partner 

Jude Bellingham's heat map shows how much ground the Borussia Dortmund midfielder covers
Jude Bellingham's heat map shows how much ground the Borussia Dortmund midfielder covers

Declan Rice will start in England’s midfield when they face Iran barring any injuries.

But there are many candidates to line up alongside him.

And with Kalvin Phillips out injured and Jordan Henderson lacking any match fitness, it is Jude Bellingham’s time to make the spot his own.

The 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder is an immense talent and playing him alongside Rice would give Southgate a world-class engine room.

Decorated Austrian David Alaba recently said: "As for Bellingham as a player, I can say that he is one of the greatest midfield talents in the world.

"And that at a young age! At just 19, he leads the team, doesn't hide and already decides games with his style of play."

Kane's able back-ups

Ivan Toney earned his first call-up to the England squad this week
Ivan Toney earned his first call-up to the England squad this week

After netting five goals in his first six Premier League games this season, Ivan Toney was the only player called up to the squad for the first time.

Southgate said: "With Ivan Toney, we have been tracking him for a long time. I had a good chat with Thomas Frank about him last season. 

"His form and his qualities — not only his goalscoring but his technical ability, build-up play and aerial prowess — gives us a different threat to some of the other players we could pick."

Toney, 26, will hope to complete his rapid rise up the football pyramid and make the squad for Qatar as one of Harry Kane’s back-ups.

With Tammy Abraham the only other central striker with the Three Lions this week, Toney can book his spot if he impresses.

If not, Ollie Watkins, Callum Wilson, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and others will dream of forcing their way into Southgate’s plans.

Tags

EnglandWorld CupUEFA Nations League
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