Jude Bellingham and Levi Colwill withdrew from the England squad after they sat out games for Real Madrid and Chelsea respectively with shoulder problems, so who will step up and seize their opportunity to impress Gareth Southgate in Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia?
points: Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield, Cole Palmer as playmaker… but where to play Phil Foden? />
Who will step up and seize their opportunity to impress Gareth Southgate in the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia on Friday and Monday? The Sky Sports writers pick out their talking points…
Why Southgate will take Malta and North Macedonia seriously
England are home and dry as far as Euro 2024 qualification is concerned – but do not expect Gareth Southgate to start experimenting with his line-up in these final two group games.
- Cole Palmer, Rico Lewis, Ezri Konsa called up for England
- The Question: Why wasn’t James Ward-Prowse picked for England?
- Euro 2024 state of play: Who has joined England in qualifying?
That’s because England still have work to do in order to secure place in Pot 1 of the group stage draw, meaning a more favourable set of opponents in Germany next summer.
For England to qualify as top seeds, they need to finish top of their group and in the top five teams across the European qualifiers for most points picked up in their group.
Southgate’s side currently have the fourth-highest number of points – and need a win and a draw to secure a Pot 1 place on their own terms. Victory over Malta on Friday and other results going their way could also be enough.
So England still have something to play for as this qualification campaign comes to a close – expect Southgate to go strong over the next week.
Hello old friend: England’s left-sided problem
Image: Luke Shaw remains out for England – so where is the depth at left-back?
When you think of clichés involved with the England national team, two immediately spring to mind.
Perennial underachievers is one. A problem down the left is the other.
Despite Gareth Southgate making England very much upwardly mobile, both issues remain.
We have seen Dennis Wise, Phil Neville, Jason Wilcox, Steve Guppy, Trevor Sinclair, Kieron Dyer, Stewart Downing and even Paul Scholes all try and fail to become a mainstay at international level down the England left flank.
Such is the current dilemma in the left-back slot, Southgate has decided to head into this international period without naming a naturally left-sided defender.
Of course, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell, both arguably nailed on to make the Euro 2024 squad if fit, are nursing injuries.
Shaw is close to a return from an almost three-month lay off with a muscle injury while Chilwell’s hamstring issue is a longer-term problem. Levi Colwill played 90 minutes as full-back on his England debut vs Australia but did not overly convince and is nevertheless injured for this break now.
Southgate will ultimately rely upon Kieran Trippier to fill the void down that left flank – a reliable deputy – but it does raise the question yet again of the lack of strength in depth this England side possess when an automatic starter like Shaw is unavailable.
Rashford and Grealish to force Sterling return?
Image: A comparison of Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish's stats in the Premier League this season
Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish are the two options Gareth Southgate has to start on the left wing – but he may end the international break wanting one of his stalwarts to return.
Neither has rediscovered their form from last season and between them they only have two goals and three assists across 29 appearances in all competitions.
Rashford has struggled in a struggling team – and will arrive at this month’s England camp later in the week due to personal matters – while Grealish has had limited opportunities for Manchester City, making just three starts in the Premier League.
Image: Raheem Sterling's Premier League heatmap and stats for Chelsea this season
Should they fail to take their chance against Malta and North Macedonia then Raheem Sterling is waiting in the wings.
Southgate says “the door is 100 per cent open” for the Chelsea winger, who has seven goal contributions in 14 appearances. He may need to make that phone call.
Is this Guehi’s time to shine?
Image: Marc Guehi will likely get another chance to impress at centre-half
Marc Guehi is no stranger to the England set-up, nor a starting spot under Gareth Southgate. However, he has largely been used as a back-up behind Harry Maguire, John Stones and Lewis Dunk.
However, with the latter two out injured for November, Guehi is the obvious choice to start alongside Maguire, and stake his claim for not only a Euro 2024 squad spot, but a starting place too.
It is hard to believe Guehi is only 23. He has captained Crystal Palace on numerous occasions, and in the Premier League this season, ranks in the top 10 for clearances completed and headed clearances.
For England, he has looked calmed and assured at centre-back, with his partnership alongside Dunk against Scotland a particular highlight. Guehi has a long career ahead with England, and two European Qualifiers this month will only add to his international experience.
If England face similar injury concerns ahead of Euro 2024, Guehi is more than capable of starting for the team in the most pressurised of situations.
Will Trent impress in midfield again?
Here’s our pick of Trent Alexander-Arnold showcasing his range of passing in the Premier League so far this season
On England’s official website, Trent Alexander-Arnold is listed as a midfielder. That pretty much says everything you need to know in terms of how Gareth Southgate now views the 25-year-old.
Having long been the most creative defender in the country, Alexander-Arnold has had his position reimagined at Liverpool since April when he was thrust into a new hybrid role. That change has followed him to international level too.
A peripheral figure for much of Southgate’s tenure, Alexander-Arnold attracted widespread praise for his midfield performances for England in June. A stunning goal in a 4-0 win over Malta was followed by a superb assist in a 7-0 thrashing of North Macedonia three days later.
“He showed exactly what we thought he could be capable of,” Southgate said in the summer, but the question now is whether the England boss sees Alexander-Arnold as a mainstay in the centre of the pitch.
Alexander-Arnold started at right-back against Australia and was an unused substitute against Italy last month, but with England completing their qualification campaign against two teams that have already felt the full force of his midfield qualities, he will be confident of getting the chance to impress in his new position again.
Take a chance on Palmer as Bellingham replacement
Image: Cole Palmer is Chelsea's man of the moment
Replacing Jude Bellingham is not a job that anyone in world football can fulfil at the minute. Fortunately for England, the Real Madrid midfielder is only missing Euro 2024 qualifiers against North Macedonia and Malta with qualification assured.
It is a wise move to give England’s golden boy a rest. This is the time for Gareth Southgate to experiment, with fresh faces in the camp looking to impress.
James Maddison, one of the Premier League’s form players this season, is unfortunate to miss out with injury. Having turned over a new leaf with his work-rate off the ball at Spurs, this would have been a chance to show Southgate he can be trusted through the middle.
A central berth for Phil Foden, the next best option to deputise for Bellingham, was seemingly ruled out by Southgate in September. Although, the England manager left the door slightly ajar for the 23-year-old.
Jamie Carragher says Cole Palmer feels like the main man at Chelsea following his stoppage-time equaliser against his former club Manchester City
“He doesn’t play there for his club, so presumably there is a reason for that,” he said. “It depends on the level of the game, really.” Malta and North Macedonia, one would presume, fits that bill, but it seems a waste if Foden’s chance will stretch no further.
Southgate’s tendency to prioritise pragmatism over populism dictates that Conor Gallagher or Jordan Henderson will be favoured. But with time running out ahead of the Euros, it feels an appropriate moment to take a chance on Cole Palmer, Chelsea’s man of the moment.
The 21-year-old has shown he has no problems dealing with pressure. His performances make him worth of a starting spot – this can be the test to see if he is Southgate-compatible in the penultimate England camp before the squad is picked for Germany.
Gallagher has earned midfield role
Sky Sports’ Josh Hayward quizzes Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher on his career so far, including encounters with Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea goal scoring records and even who runs his baths!
Gallagher has started all but one of Chelsea’s games so far this season and has also captained his boyhood club on occasion.
The Blues rejected a bid from West Ham in the summer and he appears to be in favour with head coach Mauricio Pochettino despite the recent heavy spending at Stamford Bridge.
Gallagher was part of the England squad for last winter’s World Cup but admitted at the time that he “didn’t expect” the call from Gareth Southgate and was “surprised” to be on the plane to Doha.
Now he plays in the Chelsea midfield alongside two of the top five most expensive signings in Premier League history – Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo – while teaming up with £105m man Declan Rice and Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham with England.
Asked if consistently being called up by England while keeping the faith of Pochettino and playing alongside such talent removed any previous doubt, Gallagher replied: “Yeah, that’s not the case anymore. After the World Cup squad was announced, I wasn’t playing much for Chelsea and we were going through a tough period, so that’s why I said that.
“But I’m very confident in my ability and what I can do. Training and playing alongside midfielders worth 100-plus million pounds is good and shows where I’m at as well.”
Gallagher was forced to play in goal during garden kickabouts as the youngest of four boys – and the coming days offer the 23-year-old midfielder the opportunity to show he is where he belongs and to underline that he no longer suffers from imposter syndrome on the international stage.