Ready to stake his reputation on Harry Maguire’s continued selection, Gareth Southgate insists the disgraced Manchester United defender remains one of England’s most important players.
Maguire was dropped on the bench for United’s run of four straight Premier League wins after starting his back-to-back defeats to open the campaign last month.
The defender has started just one of United’s last five games in all competitions – a 1-0 Europa League defeat by Real Sociedad – prompting criticism of Southgate’s decision to call him up for the remaining Nations League games in England.
But ahead of England’s meeting with Italy in San Siro, followed by Germany’s visit on Monday, Southgate insisted Maguire remained at the center of his plans.
“Whatever reputation I have, I put it there,” Southgate said. “I think you always have to use your judgment and we think he’s an important player.
“Obviously this is not an ideal situation. You want your best players to play regularly so they are in a good place physically and mentally.
“But he’s an important player for us. I think it’s important to support our best players.
“I didn’t feel the need to talk to him any differently than I did to the other players. Look, he understands he’s at a big club, a big transfer fee and he’s the captain of the club, so I think that’s the reason for that is that he’s in the spotlight.” him more.
“But he is focused on training well every day and getting back into the game [United] Team.”
While Southgate acknowledges that a lack of alternatives contributed to his decision to stand by Maguire, he also highlighted the ball-playing ability of the defender and his partner John Stones.
“If we thought there were experienced players willing to come in and play at a higher level, there would be a different consideration and in some positions there would be a different level of competition in that way,” Southgate said. “He is our most dominant full-back.
“He and John are really incredible with the ball – how much pressure they’ve taken for the team in tournaments we’ve played because we don’t always have that midfielder who can move the game forward.
“It means there’s a lot of pressure on our centre-backs to use the ball well and these two are as good at it as anyone in world football.”
England have lost just two of their last 26 games, both against Hungary in June’s Nations League fixtures (W18 D6).
However, the Three Lions are also without a win in their last four games (U2 U2), their longest such streak since June 2014 (five), and a defeat by Italy in Milan would see Southgate’s side relegated to the top flight of the Nations League judged.