England manager Gareth Southgate has leaped to the defense of under-fire Manchester United center-back Harry Maguire in the resulting backlash after the Red Devil’s defender was included in the latest Three Lions squad set to face Switzerland and Ivory Coast in a pair of friendlies at Wembley during the upcoming international break.
Maguire has been one of the most heavily - and justifiably - criticized players at United this season, but despite his poor form, the center-back has credits in the bank after key performances for England across their last two international tournaments that saw them reach the semi-finals of World Cup 2018 and the final against Italy at Euro 2020.
In quotes provided by the Evening Standard, Southgate shot down claims that there are 'double standards' when it comes to selecting England players after center-back options the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Eric Dier, Trevoh Chalobah, and Max Kilman were overlooked despite having better runs of form.
"I don’t think it ever crossed our mind not to select Harry Maguire for this squad. He’s been a key part of the starting XI that got us to the World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final."
"I know the club is going through a difficult period, but you’ve got to look at who are our best players, and the core of the team, and he’s in that group. With no doubt in my mind that he’s one of our best center-backs. Form, in that sense, is temporary. There’s also, in our forward areas, perhaps a lot more competition for some of those wide places. I will always be accused of double standards on picking on form, but there are nuances to that, in that we’re not picking the 100-meter finalists here, where the fastest time wins and it’s all very clear."
"There’s a more difficult path to selecting a football team and selecting a squad. But Harry now has over 40 caps, is consistently a strong performer for us, [and] was through the autumn period as well. Hopefully, he can continue that vein of form with us, that he’s had for such a long period of time."
Southgate justifies dropping Sancho and Rashford
Though Harry Maguire found his way into the England team under Gareth Southgate once again, two Manchester United club mates were dropped for the upcoming international break.
Red Devil’s forwards Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were not included in the 25-man squad for the pair of Wembley fixtures, with Southgate putting his decision down to others in the pecking order being ‘slightly ahead’ currently.
"Other attacking players in the squad are slightly ahead of him [Sancho] at the moment. You can see the names – [Phil] Foden, [Raheem] Sterling, [Bukayo] Saka, [Emile] Smith-Rowe, Jack Grealish. If you look at the seasons they've had... With Jadon, over the last few weeks, his performances have without doubt improved at Manchester United but it's an area of the field where we've got really big competition for places, and at the moment we've got those guys slightly ahead."
"Marcus is in the same position as everybody else. Whether they're in the squad or not in the squad, they've all got to play well over the end of this season and particularly the beginning of next season. It's a difficult time for him, he's clearly not at his best. We know a lot about Marcus anyway and what he can bring to us. And hopefully, he rediscovers that form that we know he's capable of."
Though it is questionable whether Jack Grealish - on current form - is a better option than Jadon Sancho after the former Borussia Dortmund starlet has been a standout performer for United in recent weeks, Southgate seems more than comfortable with the sheer depth of quality that England can bring to the table at any moment.