Friday, March 1, 2024

James Maddison: England set to start Leicester playmaker against Ukraine

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James Maddison is expected to make his first start for England against Ukraine at Wembley on Sunday – with the Leicester City playmaker set to line up on the left wing.

There were widespread calls for Maddison to be included in the England World Cup squad but, when he was, injury prevented him playing a single minute in Qatar.

Since making his international debut as a substitute against Montenegro three-and-a-half years ago, injuries and selection dilemmas have meant Maddison has missed out on playing for his country.

He has played only 35 minutes of senior international football in his career.

But Sky Sports News has been told his attitude in Qatar – remaining positive and supportive of his team-mates, even when he did not get his chance on the pitch – impressed boss Gareth Southgate and the rest of the England coaches.

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Leicester City’s Maddison has previously made only one substitute appearance for England

His performances in training in the last week have done likewise and the 26-year-old now looks set to start in the Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine, winning his first cap since 2019.

He is expected to get the nod in place of Jack Grealish, who struggled to make an impact against a physical Italian defence, on the left of the front three.

‘A big opportunity on a big stage for Maddison’

Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett:

“It’s big news. This isn’t just a discussion about James Maddison getting the nod ahead of Phil Foden or Jack Grealish, this is his first England start.

“There were widespread calls for him to be included in the World Cup squad, and he was, but he arrived at the camp with an injury and didn’t play a single minute.

“The way I understand it is that it was a big plus for him, with Gareth Southgate and the rest of the coaching set-up, the way he behaved while he was in Qatar, off the pitch.

“He was very supportive of his team-mates, he never moaned. He has a strong personality, which I think comes across to everybody, and is such a likeable guy and that helped the mood in the camp.

“So, even though he wasn’t playing, that really impressed Southgate and his performances in training in the last week have really impressed him as well, so he is going to get his chance.

“He is 26 years old. He made his debut back in 2019 and played only 35 minutes in that game as a substitute.

“So, this is a big game for him, a big opportunity on a big, big stage, a European Championship qualifier. Can he take his chance? Can he keep the form he’s been showing for Leicester and replicate it on the international stage?

“I think Southgate will make more changes in midfield, because Kalvin Phillips played 90 minutes against Italy. I just don’t think it’s physically possible for him to do a full 90 again, three days later.

“So, the question for Maddison is, is he going to be part of a midfield three, maybe as the advanced 10, or is he going to be on the left wing?

“I suspect he’ll be on the left wing and, in midfield, Southgate will definitely go for Declan Rice, definitely for Jude Bellingham, if he’s overcome that knee problem against Italy, and probably Jordan Henderson as well, who has trained fully in the last few days.”

Southgate: Toney in our thoughts | Bellingham, Henderson fit, James out

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Gareth Southgate says he really likes Ivan Toney but there is always the dual objective of balancing the desire to see players against the priority to win the game

Southgate said Ivan Toney is “very much” in his thoughts for the game against Ukraine.

The England boss also confirmed Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham are fit to feature in the Group C fixture at Wembley, after news of Reece James‘ withdrawal from the squad earlier on Saturday.

On Brentford striker Toney’s possible selection, Southgate said: “He has been very good. We really like him and he’s very much in our thoughts.”

Asked about the fitness concerns in his squad, the England boss said: “Jordan hadn’t trained much the previous week with Liverpool because of an illness, but he’s good to go now.”

On Bellingham, Kalvin Phillips and the rest of the group, Southgate added: “They’re all good. Clearly, with Kalvin, he played his first 90 minutes for a little while against Italy, so we’ll have to assess freshness, but that’s the same as the whole squad.

“We’ve got to get the balance right with continuity and consistency, but also freshness.”

Should Southgate have made extra call-up for depleted England?

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Rob Dorsett says England manager Southgate will only have 18 outfield players to pick from for the match against Ukraine after Reece James withdrew from the squad

Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett:

Fresh off the back of a momentous win in Naples – England’s first victory in Italy for 62 years, and one where Harry Kane made his own history – Gareth Southgate can’t even name a full bench for the home game with Ukraine.

He has only 18 outfield players to pick from. Reece James pulling out with a minor hamstring problem goes alongside Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount and Nick Pope’s injury withdrawals, and Luke Shaw’s suspension.

Southgate rarely makes late call-ups, but his refusal to do so here is a strange one. The England boss has explained it away by saying that it’s very difficult to bring in players mid-camp, when they’re not up to speed with where the other players are.

Normally, he would raid the U21s, but he said because their game was the day before the senior team, that was also problematic.

At least England’s problems in midfield have eased.

Jordan Henderson came into St George’s Park off-colour as he recovered from illness, Jude Bellingham limped off in Naples with a knee knock, and Kalvin Phillips played almost twice as many minutes against Italy as he’s managed all season for Manchester City.

Southgate says all three are good to go against Ukraine, though he will consider the freshness of those players. That points to probably Henderson and Bellingham lining up alongside Declan Rice, with Phillips rested.

Kane will start up top again for sure. He wants to play every minute for England, and surpassing Wayne Rooney’s all-time scoring record hasn’t diminished his hunger for goals. The fact that Tottenham don’t play again until a week on Monday, means there’s no logical debate about load-management, even though it will be his second 90 minutes in three days.

Southgate has no issue with Rashford’s trip to New York

Marcus Rashford netted three times for England at the World Cup in Qatar
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Marcus Rashford netted three times for England at the World Cup in Qatar

Southgate has defended Marcus Rashford’s decision to jet off to the United States after pulling out of the England squad through injury.

Few in world football are in greater form than the rejuvenated Manchester United forward, who has scored 19 goals in 25 appearances since his impressive World Cup showing.

Qatar saw Rashford make his first England appearances since his shoot-out miss in the Euro 2020 final against Italy, which was followed by a challenging year in terms of form and fitness.

The 25-year-old was called up for March’s European qualification double-header against Italy and Ukraine, only to withdraw after picking up a knock in the FA Cup quarter-final against Fulham.

Rashford was in New York when England were winning 2-1 in Naples, where Southgate said “when you haven’t had him that often then it’s different to being a loss”.

The England boss clarified: “I was asked the other day did we miss him and it was semantics of words, really. But he’s in good form, we’d love to have had him as an option for this camp but we haven’t got him.

“Always then I have to think what’s the best solution and it’s opportunities for other people.”

Asked about Rashford walking around New York rather than linking up with England, Southgate said: “I wouldn’t think the levels are quite the same!

“Once he’s ruled out of the squad, it’s entirely up to him how he spends his time.

“The players don’t get a lot of breaks, so I think for all of them, once they’ve got a little bit of time… I’m sure our players will be flying off wherever after tomorrow’s game. If they get 48 hours with the schedule as it is, I think they have to take advantage of it.”

‘We hope Rashford’s good form can continue’

Marcus Rashford celebrates man Utd winning the Carabao Cup final
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Rashford celebrates Man Utd winning the Carabao Cup

It is not the first time Rashford has withdrawn from a squad, but Southgate defused the suggestion it could harm his chances of future call-ups.

“We always make a judgement on how people are playing and he’s obviously played a lot for us,” he said. “He’s over 50 caps now for England and close to 50 of those have been since I’ve been the manager.

“I’ve known him a long time. I know what he’s capable of. It’s good to see him in the goalscoring form he’s in. When he’s getting a chance at the moment, you’re expecting him to score.

“There’s been a period in the last couple of years where he’s not been as hot as that and that’s been frustrating for everybody to see but he is in good form and we hope that can continue.”

Where and when is Euro 2024?

Gareth Southgate congratulates Harry Kane after breaking England's goal scoring record
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Gareth Southgate congratulates Harry Kane after he set a new England goalscoring record

Germany are hosting the tournament which is scheduled to take place from June 14 to July 14 2024.

The format will be the same as Euro 2020 where the top two in each of the six final tournament groups will proceed to the round of 16 along with the four best third-placed finishers.

What do England need to qualify from Group C?

The group winners and runners-up advance directly to the final tournament of 24 teams.

The remaining three teams will be decided through the play-offs, featuring 12 teams selected based on their performance in the 2022/23 Nations League.

England’s Group C schedule…

England will play home and away against Italy, Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta in Group C. Their fixture list is as follows:

  • Mar 26, 2023 – England vs Ukraine
  • Jun 16, 2023 – Malta vs England
  • Jun 19, 2023 – England vs North Macedonia
  • Sep 9, 2023 – Ukraine vs England
  • Oct 17, 2023 – England vs Italy
  • Nov 17, 2023 – England vs Malta
  • Nov 20, 2023 – North Macedonia vs England

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