Four problems Southgate still needs to solve
Maguire blunders, Watkins misfires, Alexander-arnold fails to convince – and who should play on the left?
By Matt Law FOOTBALL NEWS CORRESPONDENT at Todor Proeski Arena, Skopje Can England count on Maguire?
Sport | Euro 2024 Qualifier
Gareth Southgate will not see his England players until March and, with only two games left before the European Championship, he has more questions than answers to think over for the next four months. Here, Telegraph Sport looks at the questions Southgate did not get answers to in the final two European Championship qualifiers against Malta on Friday, and North Macedonia last night. Is Alexander-arnold the answer? With Jordan Henderson playing his club football in Saudi Arabia and Kalvin Phillips not playing any, Southgate took the opportunity to get a good look at Trent Alexander-arnold in midfield. He was good, but nothing special in a scrappy overall England performance against Malta, picking out some good passes. But in Skopje, he gave the ball away too easily and did not look entirely comfortable next to Declan Rice. For all Phillips’s troubles at Manchester City, he and Rice have a good understanding and that was lacking against North Macedonia. Alexander-arnold’s inclusion also makes it a little more difficult to play with an out-and-out No10, which is where Jude Bellingham has flourished recently. Alexander-arnold did not harm his chances of going to the Euros at all, but Southgate is unlikely to be convinced that he will be a starter in Germany yet. What is England’s best left side? Robbed of most of his left-back options, Southgate was forced to be creative over the two games. Fikayo Tomori was asked to play out of position to cover for the injured Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell against Malta, but lasted only 45 minutes before being replaced. In Skopje, Rico Lewis was handed his debut and was unfortunate to give away a first-half penalty that was awarded following a Var check. Lewis played as a hybrid midfielder, while Tomori had played more like a third centreback, with Kieran Trippier pushing further forwards at Wembley. The only answer Southgate really got from the two games is that he could do with Shaw and Chilwell being fit next summer. The England manager also looked at two options on the left side of his attack, with Marcus Rashford offering little and Jack Grealish having a goal chalked off for offside. With Cole Palmer now part of the squad and Raheem Sterling pushing for a recall, Southgate will still not be certain who his first-choice starter on the left of his front three is. Who is Kane’s deputy? Ollie Watkins got another go at making himself Harry Kane’s standin, but Ivan Toney may still feel he can force his way back in for the summer on last night’s evidence. Watkins was denied an early goal by a decent block, but misjudged a good headed chance from a Phil Foden cross. England simply will not find another Kane, and Watkins had come out of the last England camp with credit after scoring against Australia. Callum Wilson’s injury problems may leave him with an uphill task to travel to the Euros, but Toney has the chance to give Southgate something to really think about when he returns from his eight-month ban in the new year. It was not a surprise when Southgate called for Kane and he forced an own goal from a header with his first touch. Watkins will count his night as an opportunity missed. Harry Maguire deserves credit for the way in which he has battled his way back into the Manchester United team, but these were two more unconvincing performances. Against Malta, Maguire struggled with his passing without John Stones next to him. It was interesting that Maguire was moved from the left of centre to the right for North Macedonia, but, again, his distribution let him down. He was let off the hook by Var after giving the ball away and falling into Eljif Elmas, with replays showing it should have been a penalty. Marc Guehi was calmness personified in both qualifiers and there must now be an argument to test him next to Stones against Brazil and Belgium in March. Southgate has been incredibly loyal to Maguire, but he surely must wonder whether Stones and Guehi are now the way forwards.