Exactly what headaches is Gareth Southgate facing nine weeks out from Qatar?

Nine weeks out from the World Cup and the problems are mounting up for England manager Gareth Southgate.

Injuries, a lack of playing time at club level for key players and no recognised understudy to Harry Kane are issues threatening to blight England’s preparations.

Ahead of the double header against Italy and Germany, Sportsmail examines the headaches Southgate is facing.


What if Pickford is still injured?

In terms of knowing his first choice, goalkeeper is not an area causing Southgate much concern. Jordan Pickford is his undisputed No 1.

However, the Everton man’s unavailability due to a thigh injury for the final two matches before the tournament accentuates a niggling issue. What if Pickford is out? There is no obvious candidate to replace him.

Nick Pope, Aaron Ramsdale and Dean Henderson, who are the three in the squad this week, have a total of 12 caps between them compared to Pickford’s 45.

Elsewhere, Brazil No 2 Ederson has 18 caps while first-choice Alisson has 55. Germany’s recognised No 1 keeper Manuel Neuer has 116 caps compared to second in-line Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s 28.

The Nations League matches will provide Pope and Ramsdale an opportunity to stake their claim as Pickford’s understudy.

Don’t be surprised to see both given an opportunity over the next week. Henderson, the beneficiary of Pickford’s omission, is likely to need an injury if he is to stand a chance of making the plane.

Centre backs

How can Maguire be in starting XI?

There is no ambiguity over who Southgate views as his two strongest centre backs: Harry Maguire and John Stones. Stones is playing regularly at Manchester City and that will come as a huge relief to the England manager.

Maguire, however, is finding life increasingly difficult under new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag.

Since being dropped for the game against Liverpool four weeks ago, Maguire has played just 10 minutes in the Premier League.

He was given a start in the Europa League against Real Sociedad — a game United lost — but kept on the bench until the final minute against Moldovan side FC Sheriff last week.

Maguire’s prospects of getting back into the United team appear remote. The 29-year-old was name-checked by Southgate last week as he revealed his fears over England’s chances in Qatar due to a lack of first-team action for some of his stars.

The only way Maguire’s predicament is likely to change is through injury to other United players.

That leaves Southgate in a tight spot. The England manager has stressed on numerous occasions that his players should be involved regularly at club level if they are to make his squad.

There are exceptions for particular members and Maguire falls into that category. Will he make the World Cup squad if his peripheral club role continues? Probably, yes. Starting him, however, is harder to justify.

Eric Dier’s revival should ease Southgate’s concerns. The Tottenham defender is in the form of his career at centre half and that, coupled with his major tournament experience, should be a factor.

Southgate is known to be a big fan of Marc Guehi but the Crystal Palace defender, Fikayo Tomori and Conor Coady have no experience of playing in a major senior international tournament.

Coady was selected for the Euro 2020 squad but did not play a single minute.

Full backs

Should he leave Alexander-Arnold at home?

We Have had all the jokes about Southgate selecting a squad full of right backs — but at this stage it is no longer a laughing matter. Kyle Walker is a certainty and if England play with a four-man defence the Manchester City man starts at right back.

If Southgate switches to a back-three, then Walker plays alongside Stones and one other in the heart of defence, with Reece James likely to play at right wing-back.

The Chelsea man’s versatility is a major bonus for Southgate, James can also play at right back and central defence. Walker and James as right-sided defensive options would usually suffice. But that would mean leaving Trent Alexander-Arnold behind.

The fact England can select 26 rather than the usual 23 players means Southgate can accommodate three right backs — but is that a waste of a slot, particularly when Kieran Trippier can play on either flank?

Southgate appears to need convincing about Alexander-Arnold. His ability going forward is unquestionable, but Southgate seems unsure about the Liverpool star’s defensive capabilities. That leaves Alexander-Arnold vulnerable.

It is no clearer at left back either. In normal circumstances Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell would be selected. Neither is playing regularly at club level but in contrast to right back, there are not many other options.

The fact an alternative was not selected in this squad suggests no one is in the running to make a late World Cup bid, although Brentford’s Rico Henry is understood to have impressed England staff, while Tyrick Mitchell, having been called up last season, remains on the radar.


Will he finally unleash Jude Bellingham?

Regardless of whether Southgate deploys a three-man or two-man midfield, Declan Rice is the only certainty to be selected. Southgate places immense value on the West Ham star but who plays next to him is up for debate.

In normal circumstances you would imagine Kalvin Phillips would feature but he will today withdraw from the squad and is set to have surgery to cure a shoulder complaint that has been dogging the midfielder for more than 12 months.

England are confident Phillips will recover in time but he may not be a guaranteed starter in Qatar.

Perhaps the biggest quandary of all for Southgate is whether to finally unleash Jude Bellingham. For many, the Borussia Dortmund teenager should be one of the first names on the team-sheet. It is hard to disagree as he is a phenomenal footballer.

Southgate is a lot more cautious. He has been criticised for that — which is nonsense given England finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup and second at Euros 2020 — but surely it is time to thrust Bellingham into his starting XI.

The decision could be made easier if Phillips is not fit. It will be interesting to see if Southgate feels the same, or if he reverts to the experience of Jordan Henderson.

If Southgate uses a three-man midfield, Mason Mount has a good chance of playing. Southgate loves the Chelsea star’s defensive discipline. Mount receives his fair share of criticism but the 23-year-old carries out Southgate’s instructions to a tee — a manager’s dream.


Where’s the back-up to Kane?

All being well, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden will lead England’s attack. In wide attacking areas, England are well blessed: Mason Mount, Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka all have genuine cases to start England’s opener against Iran on November 21.

If Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho continue their promising starts to the season, they could come into the equation, too.

But England’s centre forward options behind Kane continues to be a major problem. Ivan Toney, who was handed his first international call-up last week, has the opportunity to force his way into Southgate’s World Cup party.

He will almost certainly be handed his debut in the forthcoming games and an impressive showing could see the Brentford striker propel himself into a position where he is viewed as Kane’s No 2.

Tammy Abraham’s impressive stint in Italy playing for Roma has seen him recalled in recent months, but the fact he played just 65 minutes in England’s four summer internationals suggests Southgate still needs convincing that he is an alternative to Kane.

With that in mind, Rashford’s ability to offer something different playing through the middle, while also being able to play wide, is likely to be considered when Southgate makes the final decisions over his World Cup squad.

The Manchester United star was close to being recalled for the next two fixtures but a muscular injury prevented his inclusion.

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  • 2 минуты назад 25.09.2022Sport
    Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will never be able to match master of grace Roger Federer

    Roger Federer exited the tennis stage in London in the early hours on Saturday to waves of heartfelt emotion and rightful acclaim. Professional sport is about winning of course. The Swiss great did plenty of that during his fabulous career but it is also about how the game is played and Federer played it with an elegance that bordered on the hypnotic.

    Has there ever been a sportsman who has made his world look more graceful? The numbers say Rafael Nadal, his doubles partner in the final act on Friday night, and Novak Djokovic both won more Grand Slams. They also say that both his great rivals won a greater percentage of their head-to-head battles with Federer.

    But there was always something intrinsically satisfying about watching Federer at the peak of his powers which the other two could never match. To sit at Centre Court and behold Federer in full dreamy flow was to watch the brushwork of a master artist.

    It was killer tennis delivered in carpet slippers. The highlights reel of the eight-time Wimbledon winner has been truly global. He stunned Paris in 2009 to interrupt Nadal’s French Open dominance and complete his career Grand Slam.

    He was magnificent in Melbourne in defying the odds to deliver his comeback win after a six-month absence at the Australian Open eight years later. But it was at Wimbledon where the purity of his tennis shone brightest.

    Djokovic is only one title away from matching Federer at the grass-court Grand Slam but the tournament may always be the Swiss’. Certainly he is the event’s favourite son.

    It was a shame the farewell could not have come at SW19 but even the greatest cannot write their own scripts. No matter. The memories he leaves will last a lifetime – and his tearful farewell alongside Nadal and Djokovic at the O2 was just one more of them.

    Federer said: “I enjoyed tying my shoes one more time … the match was great. I couldn’t be happier. It’s been wonderful. And of course, playing with Rafa on the same team and having the guys – everybody here, all the legends – thank you.

    “The last two days have been tough to say the least. Thankfully in moments I totally forgot about it, slept great, everything was wonderful, I could enjoy it, I feel. And because of that I think I will be able to have a better recollection of how it went.

    “Because if it’s all just stress throughout and I want it to be only perfect, I know I will remember half of it. Because I felt the way I felt, I feel like I have dealt with my retirement strongly for the last month.”

  • 2 минуты назад 25.09.2022Sport
    England at risk of freefall if Gareth Southgate doesn’t scrap back three for World Cup

    Even Gareth Southgate’s fondest admirers would never claim England have been the greatest showmen during his reign but with under eight weeks to go to Qatar they have slipped into full-on corpse mode. The adrenaline that should be surging through the players’ veins with a World Cup coming fast into view has been replaced by embalming fluid.

    The goal drought which has afflicted the side in the Nations League and twinned them with San Marino as the only other team in the competition not to have scored in open play in the five matches so far speaks of a creative void of England’s own making. After reaching the semi-final of the World Cup in Russia and the final of the Euros, Qatar was supposed to be this team’s moment.

    But England are sleepwalking their way towards the date with their supposed destiny. Monday night’s game against Germany at Wembley – their last one before the tournament itself – has suddenly become critical. Southgate’s slumbering side needs a huge jolt of electricity sending through it to get it moving again before Qatar.

    For that to have a chance of happening the team needs to cast off its tactical reserve. The three-man central defensive set-up has to go. It has served Southgate well in specific situations – England used it against the Germans at the Euros to good effect – but now is not the time for caution.

    Dispensing with the system carries a risk given the fragile condition of England’s central defensive options but Southgate’s side, so insipid as a goal threat of late, have to switch the emphasis to attack. The wing-backs were deployed so deep in the San Siro on Friday night that they offered virtually nothing going forward – even Bukayo Saka.

    England need the creativity of players like him much further up the field. There is a balance to be struck but the numbers show how far away England are from striking the correct one at present. In trying to seal up the back door, they have gummed up the front one completely.

    The valid excuses of a summer of experimentation have gone. They have lost their way and have 90 minutes left to rediscover it. For Southgate, the impossible job he had made seem not only possible, but even enjoyable, is starting to weigh heavily.

    After the chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ in Wolverhampton as England slumped to a 4-0 home defeat by Hungary in June, he was forced to endure being booed by a section of England’s travelling support in Milan. It will be interesting to test the temperature at Wembley on Monday night.

    His default setting is measured, the watchword of his team’s caution but this is dogs off the leash time. After the emotion of a full house belting out ‘God Save The King’ England have to come out firing. To hear Italy manager Roberto Mancino hold court in the San Siro after Friday night’s match you might have thought England’s situation is being overblown.

    As he pointed out with a rueful grin, England are going to the World Cup after all – unlike his Italy team who failed to qualify. His view was that the Nations League defeat would have no impact on England’s World Cup chances which he continues to rate as good. Mancini still believes England are one of the sides that can win it.

    If it had been just one narrow loss on the road against a side England have not beaten away since the black and white era, the former Manchester City manager might have a point but five games without a win is starting to look serious. If the tide cannot be turned against the Germans, it will be hard to offer any sort of coherent argument that they will be at the sharp end punching in Qatar.

    England have a forgiving World Cup group but there is no switch marked belief which a side can simply flick on demand. Confidence has to be built up, not magically created. Omniously, the nature of the winter scheduling lays the supposed big guns open to ambush more than in a traditional World Cup.

    England will go into their opening game against Iran on November 21 straight off a Premier League weekend. They need to feel the ground beneath their feet again versus Germany because at the moment they are in danger of slipping into an irretrievable freefall.

  • 50 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    NRL star Brandon Smith admits ‘I wish I could control what I say better’ ahead of move to Roosters

    Controversial NRL star Brandon Smith is Bondi bound in 2023 but his move was not an easy one – wishing he could control what he says better as the raging utility reveals he took $200,000 less to move north.

    The 26-year-old played his final game for the Storm in round one of the finals, bowing out to the Raiders in a shock elimination loss.

    Earlier in the year Smith entered hot water in a tell-all interview with YKTR, which jeopardised his position and loyalty to Melbourne.

    ‘The Cheese’ dropped the F-bomb 61 times throughout the podcast special and detailed how he was determined to take the Roosters to premiership glory upon his arrival.

    ‘I definitely regret it (the interview) but I can’t take it back,’ Smith told the Daily Telegraph.

    ‘My mouth just rambles. It’s who I am. It’s in my DNA.

    ‘I’m not perfect and people have seen that. I wish I could control what I say a little bit better and I will work on that.’

    The 2020 premiership winner says he took a $200,000 pay cut to join Robinson and his roster, saying the Dolphins were willing to confirm a massive salary beyond his negotiations with the Chooks and Storm.

    ‘No word of a lie, the Roosters’ offer was the lowest of all the clubs I spoke to. I promise you I’ve taken $200,000 less than the Dolphins and $100,000 less than the Storm offered,’ said Smith.

    He has been offered a starting hooker position with the tricolours, as current hooker Sam Verrills will head to the Titans on a two-year deal.

    The prankster insists his decision to move to NSW was not made lightly, but chose the Roosters; as his job security was not ensured while Harry Grant remained the no.1 pick at Melbourne.

    Under the radar in Melbourne, Smith knows he will have to silence his boisterous personality while in Sydney’s public view – which saw him dye his hair blonde with teammate Cameron Munster after the two arrived late at a club meeting.

    At the end of the 2021 season, Smith and Munster were investigated by the NRL integrity unit for partying in a hotel room with a white substance on the table.

    The star no.6 was forced to spend a month in rehab and abstain from alcohol for a year, while Smith was fined $15,000 and suspended for a match.

    The Kiwi international revealed coach Bellamy kissed him on the forehead after his last game with the club, where he cried and thanked him for the opportunity.

    Nine newspapers suggested last week that Bellamy and Smith had fallen out, but the fierce forward says those reports couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Smith said Bellamy has a ‘very soft side’ to him, where the two have formed an unbreakable bond and invaluable friendship.

  • 50 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    Annemiek van Vleuten wins UCI World Championship race in Wollongong with a BROKEN ELBOW

    Annemiek van Vleuten has recorded an amazing come-from-behind victory in the UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong – just three days after fracturing her elbow in a horror crash.

    The 39-year-old Dutch cycling legend won her second world road race title with an attack in the last 600m that caught the other eight leaders by surprise.

    On Wednesday, van Vleuten crashed during the mixed team relay and fractured her elbow, leaving many to think her chances of taking out Saturday’s big event were gone.

    Fortunately for van Vleuten, medical clearance came on Friday and after 164.3km racing, the Dutch rider stole an unlikely win in the Women’s Elite Road Race.

    The 2019 world champion and reigning Olympic world time trial winner claimed cycling’s triple crown this year when she landed the Italian, French and Spanish tours.

    But for the veteran, who will celebrate her 40th birthday in October, what she achieved on Saturday was something else.

    ‘Maybe this is my best victory. … I am still speechless. I still can’t believe it,’ she said.

    ‘It took me some time to realize I’d really pulled it off because I’m waiting for the moment that they tell me there was someone in front or it was a joke. I had the feeling it cannot be true.’

    The amazing win with a fractured elbow adds to the van Vleuten legend as one of the toughest riders in the world.

    ‘It was hell,’ she said of riding with the injury.

    ‘I could not go out of the saddle so I had to do everything seated and my legs were exploding on the climb.

    ‘Normally I really like to go out of the saddle and attacking. I had a so different plan. I want to attack.

    It was a game of cat and mouse in the final few kilometres of the race as no one in the peloton made a move.

    Then van Vleuten suddenly emerged from the rear of the group and began sprinting with the finish line not far away.

    The chasing peloton began closing in on van Vleuten ominously. However, the lead was just enough to reach the line first.

    ‘I felt like I was waiting for the moment,’ said van Vleuten.

    ‘The only thing I was thinking was ‘I need to attack from behind. That’s the only, only, only chance I have’.

    ‘I was waiting and waiting until they come with the sprint over me, but they didn’t catch me,’ she said.

    It’s the second time in as many years that van Vleuten has won at the UCI Road World Championships, claiming the 2019 title.

    Since 2016, the Dutch rider has experienced great hurdles in her career, riding the highest of highs and lowest of lows.

    The world’s number one rider in the women’s peloton has continued to set targets and achieve her outlandish goals despite these setbacks.

    The win means van Vleuten will spend what is likely her last full season wearing the iconic rainbow jersey.

    ‘It’s so beautiful to be able to wear the rainbow jersey. Especially, I had it in the COVID year and it was not the best year to have it, the rainbow jersey.

    ‘I still enjoyed it, but now I will fully enjoy it next year.’

    The UCI Road World Championships concludes on Sunday with the Men’s Elite Road Race from 10.15am.

  • 50 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    Geelong Cats water boy relishes 2022 Grand Final win over the Sydney Swans in heart-warming scenes

    Long-time Geelong water boy Sam Moorfoot was lifted over the fence by skipper Joel Selwood to celebrate with the team on the MCG in heart-warming scenes.

    The Cats won as much praise for their grace in victory than they did for their 81-point thrashing over the Swans in the grand final on Saturday afternoon.

    Players lingered on the hallowed MCG turf soaking up the atmosphere for some time after the final siren, before Selwood spotted an ecstatic Moorfoot on the boundary fence.

    Selwood, who the water boy describes as his ‘best friend’, insisted Moorfoot join in the celebrations, dragging him over the fence and onto the field with the help of teammate Jeremy Cameron.

    The 29-year-old, who has Down syndrome, was then given Cameron’s medal; eliciting one of the biggest smiles you are ever likely to see on a footy field.

    Moorfoot gleefully raised his medal to the fellow Cats fans watching from the fence, much to the delight of Geelong players and supporters; who are all well aware of the huge role he plays keeping up team morale.

    He’s been involved with the club since 2015, originally as a volunteer at Kardinia Park’s (now GMHBA Stadium) bistro.

    Now the club’s water boy, he can often be seen around the team during the week and on game days. Moorfoot is an iconic figure and much-loved member of the Cats family.

    The overjoyed Cats fanatic even made an appearance on Channel 7’s post-match coverage, with commentators Hamish McLachlan and Daisy Pearce interviewing Moorfoot in the changerooms.

    ‘I’m a training assistant and a water boy, and am very proud of my job,’ he said, when asked what his role was.

    Despite having Cats defender Sam De Konig’s arm around him, there was no surprises for guessing his answer to who his favourite player was.

    ‘Joel Selwood, 100 per cent … Joel is actually my best friend. He is a legend, and he’s just the best,’ Moorfoot said on Channel 7’s post-match coverage.

    ‘Best day of my life.’

    Moorfoot played in a grand final of his own earlier in the year, but his Geelong Dragons unfortunately went down to the Kananook Bulls in the Football Integration Development Association’s big dance.

    At the time, Selwood spoke about how close his bond was with Moorfoot.

    ‘We share a very special friendship, and I consider him like family. He has my back and I have his,’ he told the Age in August.

    No doubt wearing Jeremy Cameron’s AFL Premiership medal will have dulled that pain over losing his own grand final.

    Fans took the social media in droves to shower Selwood, who is the AFL’s Disability Inclusion Ambassador, in praise – and share their joy at viewing the heart-warming scenes.

    Chief of which was MP Bill Shorten, currently the Minister for National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

    ‘Joel Selwood made a lot of dreams come true yesterday. This could be the sweetest,’ he wrote on Twitter.

    It wasn’t Selwood’s only act that sent social media into meltdown.

    He led his side through the banner prior to the game with his former teammate Gary Ablett Jr.’s son Levi.

    Three-year-old Levi was diagnosed in 2020 with a rare degenerative illness that leaves him with less resistance to naturally fight illnesses compared to healthier children.

    Levi was all smiles and waving his arms about gleefully as Selwood carried him through the banner, a touching nod for one of the club’s favourite sons.

    Selwood then delivered Levi back to Ablett, who won two flags with Geelong in his sensational 357-game career.

    After the game, the revered skipper not only handed over his grand final cap, as all players do to the pint-sized Auskickers who give them their medals – but his game-worn boots as well.

    A thrilled Archie Stockdale, who won the AFL’s Auskicker of the Year award at the Brownlow Medal, had been promised a visit by Selwood – and the Cat did not disappoint.

    In emotional scenes atop the presentation stage, Selwood told the elated youngster ‘I told you I was coming to see you’.

    He then passed on his white boots, and pointed to the camera so the pair could get a photo together – ensuring the memory of a lifetime for little Archie.

    Selwood showed more care and attention for those on the periphery than getting caught up in all the emotion and hype of a AFL grand final.

    Such grace and humility in victory.

  • 50 минут назад 25.09.2022Sport
    Aaron Judge frustrated over close check swing call in the slugger’s final at-bat of the day

    In his pursuit of a record-tying 61st home run, Aaron Judge has been stymied by tough pitches and tough calls.

    One of the toughest may have come Saturday afternoon in his game against the Red Sox.

    First-base umpire Chris Conroy saw Judge check his swing on a pitch from John Schreiber that went high and outside. He called Judge out on a third strike.

    Judge reacted by pointing his arm in the direction of Conroy, saying something in his direction, then waving back toward him in anger.

    It was Judge’s second strikeout in an 0-3 day that saw him fail to hit a home run for a fourth game in a row.

    Ever since he hit home run no. 60 in a game against the Pirates, he’s gone 3 for 13 with a pair of doubles, five walks, and six strikeouts.

    The lack of production has dropped his batting average down to .314, with Boston’s Xander Bogaerts’ average rising to .315 to take the lead in the American League.

    Combine Judge’s home run count with his league leading RBI count of 128 and he’s in the hunt for the first Triple Crown in baseball since Miguel Cabrera accomplished the feat with the Detroit Tigers in 2012.

    The Yankees won the game 7-5 thanks to Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer hit right after Judge struck out.

    Judge has one more shot at tying the record against Boston. He’ll face Brayan Bello as the Yankees try and go for the sweep in the Bronx.

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Sport Exactly what headaches is Gareth Southgate facing nine weeks out from Qatar?