England manager Gareth Southgate can sometimes balk when asking questions about Manchester United’s international squad, knowing that anything he says is likely to make the headlines. But the 52-year-old has reason to keep an eye on Old Trafford over the next two months as he trims his roster ahead of the 2022 World Cup in November this year.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw were all part of the England squad that made it to the Euro 2020 final but with time running out to secure a seat on the plane to Qatar they all have reason to take care of their place.
Rashford and Sancho are looking to bounce back after paying the price of a poor year at club level, while Maguire and Shaw are unsure of their places at United. But Southgate has until November 13 to send their final 26-man squad to FIFA ahead of the World Cup, meaning all four of United’s England hopefuls are already on the clock.
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Rashford lost his place in the Southgate squad last season – a season in which he scored just five goals in 32 games. He wasn’t the only one to find it difficult at United as first manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then Ralf Rangnick struggled to get a tune out of a team initially tipped for the title shot. After scoring in consecutive games in January, Rashford found himself without a goal for the remainder of the season and when Rangnick picked his side for a crucial Champions League round of 16 second leg against Atletico Madrid in March, the 24-year-old forward found himself on the Bench behind teenager Anthony Elanga again.
The good news for Rashford is that he has found a fan in new United boss Erik ten Hag. He is back with the team this season and has scored three goals so far – in high profile games against Liverpool and Arsenal. It has been suggested he has already done enough to earn a recall from England for Nations League games against Italy and Germany during the international break at the end of September, but he must take his chance to convince Southgate to let him into the record squad for Qatar.
Maguire’s situation differs from Rashford in that he kept his place at England despite struggling for form at United. But while Rashford is a regular under Ten Hag, Maguire has lost his defensive spot following the €57.37million arrival of Ajax’s Lisandro Martinez in the summer. He started ahead of Raphael Varane in the defeats by Brighton and Brentford but has not started a Premier League game since 13 August.
Speaking about Rashford and Maguire last season, Southgate admitted they couldn’t be put in the same group because England have far more opportunities in attacking positions than at the back. Maguire also has credit in the bench, according to Southgate, for continuing to show up for England when selected, which he says Rashford hasn’t always done. “In the last eight teams he has [Rashford] has pulled out of six,” Southgate said in March after naming a squad that included Maguire but not Rashford. “Maguire has been with the team for a long time and has been an important part of the team for massive games.”
The question for Southgate now is whether he’s happy guiding Maguire to the World Cup even if he doesn’t reclaim his place at United. Southgate has typically picked squads based on form, but in the past Maguire has been given some latitude based on previous performances at international level.
Sancho was dropped by Southgate in front of Rashford but, like his United team-mate, is still trying to find his way back. He’s started the season well, scoring goals against Liverpool and Leicester and making at least one case to be considered for the World Cup.
Like Rashford, he may be fortunate that some of the other strikers on the fringes of Southgate’s squad are struggling to impress with their clubs. Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe, for example, has played just 48 minutes in the Premier League so far this season. In contrast, Sancho has played 423 while Rashford has 523.
Southgate has more options in attacking positions than in defense and will have the luxury of naming his forwards on form rather than reputation. When Southgate named his squad for June’s Nations League games, he selected Tammy Abraham, Jarrod Bowen, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling. Both Sancho and Rashford have since moved up the pecking order, while Bowen is yet to score in the league this season while West Ham are currently in the Premier League relegation zones.
Shaw was brilliant on his run for England at Euro 2020, scoring against Italy in the final, but he’s unsure about going to Qatar. His form at United improved after Solskjaer faced competition with Alex Telles at left-back. Telles has since moved to Sevilla on loan but Ten Hag has asked Shaw a similar question by signing 22-year-old left-back Tyrell Malacia from Feyenoord.
Injuries have not helped but Shaw has not played since losing at Brentford on the second weekend of the season and Malacia has received plenty of praise for his performances. Southgate is blessed with a multitude of different options as a right-back but doesn’t have the same depth down the left flank which may work in Shaw’s favour, but it’s likely he would need to make a significant contribution at United first.
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