England in Nations League: Harry Maguire’s future and other issues facing Gareth Southgate
England return to action in the Uefa Nations League when they meet Hungary in Budapest’s Puskas Arena on Saturday, as manager Gareth Southgate shapes his plans for the World Cup in Qatar.
Southgate will have most of his squad and starters for the opening World Cup game against Iran on 21 November fixed in his mind – but form, fitness and the tournament’s late start has shifted the dynamic of selection.
England face Germany in Munich on Tuesday before home games against Italy and the Hungarians once more, in what Southgate will regard as a crucial phase of his planning.
So what questions will Southgate hope might be answered in this important four-game England programme?
Will Maguire regain his form?
Harry Maguire remains one of Southgate’s most trusted lieutenants. The manager will hope Manchester United’s captain will still be as vital to him in Qatar as he was when England reached the World Cup semi-final in Russia four years ago.
Back then, Maguire’s ‘man of the people’ approach endeared him to the nation but he rejoins England’s squad for this international break under much scrutiny after a torrid time on and off the field in recent months.
Maguire had a poor season at Old Trafford, resulting in his name and first touch being booed by a section of his own fans in England’s 3-0 victory over Ivory Coast at Wembley in March. It was a chastening moment for the central defender and drew heavy condemnation from Southgate, as well as the player’s team-mates.
And he spoke this week about the understandable concerns and impact on his family of an incident in April when police conducted a sweep of his home after he received a bomb threat.
Maguire accepts criticism of his performances but quite rightly stated a line had been crossed when it came to threats to his family’s safety.
There can be no escaping that Maguire lost his way amid the mediocrity of Manchester United’s performances last season, his standing as captain called into question and his poor form drawing scorn, even at Old Trafford, on occasions.
Maguire needs big performances in these next four games to re-establish his reputation as Southgate goes through his options in central defence, with Manchester City title-winner John Stones also hoping to start another major tournament.
Fikayo Tomori is rewarded for an outstanding season in Serie A, the 24-year-old helping AC Milan to the title, with a recall. The former Chelsea defender has matured on and off the pitch and will harbour real hopes of forcing his way into the frame for Qatar.
Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi is another talented youngster who has already made his mark with England as he hopes to build on an impressive start at international level.
Arsenal’s Ben White harboured similar hopes but has been ruled out with injury, while Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings is dropped.
Maguire is still regarded as one of Southgate’s main men – but he needs to prove he is at least somewhere near his best.