Gareth Southgate can’t afford to gamble on Harry Maguire

From the moment Manchester United made Harry Maguire the most expensive defender in history, the centre back has had a target on his back. Unfortunately for him, Maguire has recently given his critics plenty of ammunition to aim his way with the United captain currently enduring an extremely difficult individual season.

Barely a Manchester United game passes without Maguire being culpable for a defensive lapse. Against Tottenham Hotspur, he scored an own goal. Against Atletico Madrid, Maguire was partly at fault for the back-post overload that led to the Spaniards’ winner. During both matches, the Old Trafford crowd groaned every time the ball went near the defender.

Maguire is better than he is showing right now, but his current form is surely on the mind of Gareth Southgate with the 2022 World Cup on the horizon for England. Can the Three Lions really depend on Maguire this winter considering how unreliable he has been for Manchester United this season?

England have always seen the best of Maguire. The 29-year-old earned his £80m move to Manchester United on the back of his impressive performances at the 2018 World Cup with Maguire a solid presence for the national team during the run to the Euro 2020 final last summer. He clearly feels most comfortable in the England set-up.

This doesn’t say a lot about the quality of the coaching at Old Trafford, but Maguire’s lack of confidence could still affect his performances for England. With this in mind Southgate might be forced into a defensive rethink as he prepares for the 2022 World Cup. England certainly have options in Maguire’s position.

Ben White is enjoying a positive first season as an Arsenal player with the 24-year-old a key figure for the team currently sitting fourth in the Premier League table. White is capable on the ball and would give England another way of playing out from the back. The Arsenal defender surely stands a good chance of being on the plane to Qatar.

Fikayo Tomori is a first team figure for an AC Milan sitting top of Serie A right now with the former Chelsea defender growing and developing with almost every match he plays. Tomori was overlooked for England’s Euro 2020 squad, but the picture has changed since then. Southgate might have to reassess his options.

John Stones’ struggles at Manchester City this season have added to Southgate’s headache with Maguire’s England centre back partner a peripheral figure for the Premier League champions. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that England will play at the World Cup in Qatar with a different centre back pairing to the one that worked for them at Euro 2020.

If, however, Southgate is going to shuffle his pack in defence, he must start experimenting as soon as possible. England have two friendly matches against Switzerland and Ivory Coast at the end of the month – this could be Southgate’s only meaningful opportunity to take another look at his defensive ranks.

Of course, Southgate has more than just his defence to consider before the 2022 World Cup. Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw are both sidelined through injury with Southgate still to settle on a midfield unit. England were criticised for being too negative through the centre of the pitch at Euro 2020, so will Southgate be more proactive through the use of someone like Jude Bellingham?

Southgate’s team need a solid foundation, though, and this is why it would be understandable if he is most concerned about the condition of his central defensive unit. Not so long ago, Maguire was the central pillar of that unit, but as his form continues to deteriorate there’s a chance England could crumble on top of him.

Author: Lucas Carlson