When asked about the Manchester United players on the national team, England manager Gareth Southgate can at times grow defensive because he knows that anything he says will almost certainly make the news. But when he narrows down his list of players ahead of the 2022 World Cup this November, the 52-year-old has cause to keep an eye on Old Trafford for the next two months.
The England team that advanced to the Euro 2020 final included Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw. However, with time running out to secure a berth on the flight to Qatar, each player must worry about his place. While Maguire and Shaw are unsure of their positions at United, Rashford and Sancho are attempting to reclaim their spots after paying the price for a disappointing season at the club level. All four of United’s potential England players are already under the gun since Southgate has until November 13 to submit his final roster of 26 to FIFA in advance of the World Cup.
After a season in which he scored just five goals in 32 appearances, Rashford lost his spot in Southgate’s team. He was not the first United manager to suffer; first Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then Ralf Rangnick had trouble motivating a group that was predicted to contend for the title. After scoring in back-to-back games in January, Rashford went goalless for the remainder of the campaign. In March, when Rangnick selected his team for a pivotal Champions League round-of-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid, Rashford, then 24 years old, was seated on the bench behind Anthony Elanga, who was only 16 years old.
Rashford has discovered a supporter in new United manager Erik ten Hag, which is terrific news for him. He has scored three goals after being re-inducted into the team this season, two of which came in high-profile matches against Liverpool and Arsenal. He may have already done enough to warrant a comeback to the England team for the Nations League matches against Germany and Italy at the end of September, but he must seize the opportunity to convince Southgate to pick him for the squad for Qatar.
In contrast to Rashford, Maguire was able to maintain his spot with England despite having a difficult time finding his form at United. However, while Maguire has lost his spot in defense since the €57.37 million summer transfer of Lisandro Martinez from Ajax, Rashford is frequently playing under Ten Hag. Raphael Varane replaced him in the starting lineup for the losses to Brighton and Brentford, but he hasn’t started a Premier League game since August 13.
Last year, while discussing Rashford and Maguire, Southgate acknowledged that they couldn’t be grouped together since England has more choices up front than they do at the back. According to Southgate, Maguire has also earned himself points because he has consistently turned up for England whenever called upon, something the manager claims Rashford has not always done. Whether Southgate is willing to send Maguire to the World Cup even if he loses, his job at United is the current sticking point. Maguire has occasionally received some wiggle room in the past due to his former international performances, even though Southgate often chooses selections based on form.
Before Rashford, Sancho was benched by Southgate, but like his United teammate, Sancho is still attempting to muscle his way back in. By scoring against Liverpool and Leicester to start the season, he has at least strengthened his case for being considered for the World Cup.
He may be fortunate that several of the forwards on the periphery of Southgate’s group are finding it difficult to make an impact with their clubs, similar to Rashford. Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal, for instance, has only played 48 minutes in the Premier League so far this year. Rashford has played 523 games, while Sancho has played 423.
When it comes to selecting his attackers, Southgate will have the luxury of focusing more on form than reputation because he has more options in attacking positions than he does in defense. In June, Southgate selected Tammy Abraham, Jarrod Bowen, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka, and Raheem Sterling for his team for the Nations League games. Since then, Sancho and Rashford have moved up the lineup, while Bowen has failed to score a league goal this year with West Ham currently sitting in the Premier League’s
Shaw was outstanding for England during their run at Euro 2020 and scored against Italy in the championship match, but he may not travel to Qatar. His performance at United improved after Solskjaer added Alex Telles as competition for the left-back position. Telles has since been loaned out to Sevilla, but Ten Hag has posed a comparable query of Shaw by acquiring Feyenoord’s Tyrell Malacia, a left-back who is 22 years old.