Gareth Southgate could be facing a midfield selection headache as key midfielder Kalvin Phillips is in a race to be fit for the World Cup in Qatar, with the Manchester City man due to have surgery on a persistent shoulder issue.
(This article was originally published on 20.09.2022)
Phillips started every game alongside Declan Rice in England’s run to the Euro 2020 final but now faces the real prospect of missing the tournament this winter.
England are not blessed with great strength in depth at the centre of midfield, but Southgate will have the option of wonderkid Jude Bellingham or Southampton captain and set-piece specialist James Ward-Prowse as the immediate options to replace Phillips if he were to miss out.
With the England boss usually preferring two defensive-minded midfielders sitting behind the attacking force, Phillips was a key component in Southgate’s preferred starting XI.
Without the former Leeds man’s pressing and defensive endeavours Southgate must decide whether to persist with his preferred midfield setup or fit his personnel to a more suitable formation.
So what options are available to Southgate if he were to lose Phillips for the Qatar World Cup and what odds are available for them to make the World Cup squad?
19-year-old Bellingham has long been considered a star of the future, based on his recent performances for Borussia Dortmund however it is hard to argue against the fact that he is a star for now and deserving of an automatic starting place at the World Cup. Even at 19 he seems a certainty to make the squad for Qatar.
The issue for Southgate is that Bellingham is more of an attack-minded player than Phillips, with the balance of the England side relying on two defensive midfielders behind the wealth of attacking talent England possess, and Southgate may prefer to deploy the former Birmingham man in a more advanced position if he is to stick with his preferred formation.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is one of the most experienced players available for Gareth Southgate to call upon. A consummate professional and natural leader, Henderson already has 69 England caps to his name and would be a shock exclusion if he didn’t find himself in the World Cup squad.
However, the former Sunderland man may not have the pace required to compete in a high-pressing England midfield at the age of 32 and while he is still a mainstay in Jürgen Klopp’s midfield at Liverpool, Henderson may have to content himself with a place on the bench in Qatar.
Southampton favourite James Ward-Prowse is an excellent option for Southgate whether that be starting or from the bench. Pep Guardiola recently claimed Ward-Prowse is the best free-kick taker in the world and with the quality of his deliveries from set-pieces over the last few seasons it’s a claim that many agree with.
The midfielder has over 300 Premier League appearances under his belt so he certainly doesn’t lack for experience at the top level, but it seems Southgate remains unsure of his quality on the world stage with the 27-year-old only capped 11 times at senior level for England.
22-year-old Gallagher enjoyed a breakout campaign last season with Crystal Palace and has earned four England caps in the last two years. A box-to-box midfielder who can tackle and spot a pass, Gallagher is considered one of the Premier League’s brightest young talents.
Despite his success in the last 12 months the Chelsea man has seen his opportunities limited at Stamford Bridge this season with then-manager Thomas Tuchel often starting Gallagher on the bench.
Gallagher will likely need to force his way into the first-team plans of new manager Graham Potter if he wishes earn a place on the plane to Qatar.
Another bright teenage prospect in the England setup, Harvey Elliott’s rise has been a meteoric one. After making just two appearances for Fulham in the Premier League, Elliott was snapped up by Liverpool where injuries have thrust him into the starting XI.
Originally deployed as a winger at Fulham, Elliott has been used in a midfield three by manager Jürgen Klopp and has impressed in his performances this season in a new role. Despite his obvious qualities Gareth Southgate might consider the World Cup stage a step too far, too early, for a player with only 14 Premier League appearances to his name.
An outsider for the World Cup in Qatar may be Leicester City’s home-grown prospect Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. Following a successful loan spell with Luton in the Championship, Dewsbury-Hall broke into the Leicester squad last season and won the Young Player of the Season award at the King Power Stadium.
This season he has started all but one game in the Premier League, scoring in the opening fixture against Brentford. A dynamic box-to-box midfielder, the 24-year-old will hope to reap the benefits any injuries to key midfielders and force his way into Gareth Southgate’s squad for Qatar.