In Focus: Maguire out to repay Southgate's faith for Three Lions
Harry Maguire is facing a potentially pivotal international period with England.
The Manchester United captain has lost his starting place at club level but remained in the Three Lions squad for their Nations League clashes against Italy and Germany.
A mainstay for Gareth Southgate since 2018, his inclusion in the XI is becoming harder to justify as central defenders elsewhere continue to impress for their clubs.
As the 29-year-old bids to prove his worth at the San Siro tonight, we turn the spotlight on his World Cup hopes.
Maguire has been one of the high-profile United players on the wrong side of their resurgence following a reshuffle by Erik ten Hag.
A disastrous 4-0 defeat to Brentford in August saw the Dutch boss opt for a central defensive partnership of summer signing Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane at the expense of his skipper.
Since then, the Red Devils have won all four of their Premier League clashes with Maguire’s only run-out from the start since coming in the Europa League loss against Real Sociedad.
Former United defender Wes Brown, who found himself in similar situations during his time at Old Trafford, sympathises with the £80million man.
He said: "It has been difficult for Harry. Last season was very poor defensively and a lot of blame got put on him for that, but I'm pretty sure if you ask him he knows he can play better.
"But at the moment the manager has chopped and changed, but likes the Martinez-Varane shout. I've been there myself, but it is one of those where you've got to keep battling on.
"I'm pretty sure Harry will go to England and focus on getting his game right and when he gets his next chance he's just got to take it.
"There are combinations that work, they take a while to sort out as the manager decides what's best, but the Martinez-Varane partnership is going very well."
Reliable for England
While his club fortunes have been on a downward trend, Maguire has been one of Southgate’s most consistent players during his six-year tenure as boss.
A key man during successful runs at both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, his knack of not letting his club form affect his international performances means his place in the side has rarely been questioned in the past.
But with this being his longest spell out of the United starting XI, those questions are now justifiably coming to the forefront.
It is even more pertinent when taking into account the other central defenders who are operating at a higher level domestically.
John Stones is a regular starter for title-chasing Manchester City, Fikayo Tomori has just won the Scudetto in Italy with AC Milan and Eric Dier has returned to the international fold after being at the heart of Tottenham’s resurgence under Antonio Conte.
There is even the argument that Conor Coady and Marc Guehi — both of whom are key players for Everton and Crystal Palace — are ahead of Maguire on club form alone.
But barring Stones and perhaps Dier, none of those options have the experience at international level that Maguire possesses and that could be crucial heading into the World Cup in Qatar this winter.
Backed by the boss
On the former Leicester man’s inclusion, Southgate said: "Whatever reputation I have I'm putting it on there. I think you always have to back your judgement, and we feel he is an important player.
"Clearly, it's not an ideal situation. You want your best players playing regularly so that they're physically in a good place and mentally in a good place. I think it's important to back our best players.
"If we thought there were experienced players ready to step in and play at a level above, there would be a different consideration and in some positions there would be a different level of competition in that way.
"He is our most dominant aerial centre-back. Him and John [Stones] are incredible with the ball really.
"The amount of pressure they have taken for the team in tournaments we have played because we don't always have that midfield pivot player who can progress the game."
Make or break
The latest reports indicate Southgate will prove the trust he has in Maguire by handing him a start against Italy at the San Siro tonight.
While the Azzurri will not be at the World Cup this winter, the Euro 2020 winners offer the kind of challenge England know they will need to overcome should their campaign be a success.
Like many in the squad, tonight and Monday’s game against Germany at Wembley will act as an audition for Qatar.
There is no reason to suggest Maguire will not come through it given his previous performances in a Three Lions shirt.
But Southgate's loyalty will be further tested leading up to the World Cup if Maguire remains in the wilderness at United.