Southgate hints at ‘encouraging’ signs over England U-turn for Man Utd star; offers squad three-word ultimatum

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Erik ten Hag, September 2022

Marcus Rashford is showing the “encouraging” reasons why he may yet play for England at the Qatar World Cup, Gareth Southgate says.

Manchester United forward Rashford has not played for the Three Lions – or made a squad – since Euro 2020. And a year after England got to the final, he is in danger of missing the next major tournament.

Indeed, the 24-year-old, along with United team-mate Jadon Sancho, do not feature in Southgate’s latest England squad.

Southgate has all-but kept his attack the same as in the June Nations League camp, while handing Ivan Toney a first call-up.

Still, the England boss has insisted that Rashford is showing signs of a resurgence, which will stand him in good stead. The forward has scored three goals and assisted two others in six Premier League games this term.

“Although our results were disappointing in the summer, we have picked on the basis of form and capability over a long period,” Southgate said on Thursday’s announcement.

“There were certain players we wanted to keep involved this time, but that said it doesn’t mean that this is the end for some of the others who aren’t involved.

“Marcus Rashford, for example, has shown some encouraging signs recently. He is a player we know well so if he can perform at a high level in the next few weeks, he of course will be under consideration.”

Rashford has played 46 times for England, scoring 12 goals. He has started 21 of those matches and come off the bench in 25 more.

Sancho also struggled for form last season in what was his debut campaign at Old Trafford. He has enjoyed a bright start to the season too, with two goals in seven games.

Southgate issues squad ultimatum

As for the 28-man squad he has picked, Southgate insisted that “every minute counts” with only eight weeks to go until he names his World Cup squad.

He added that Brentford striker Toney “gives us a different threat to some of the other players we could pick”.

Southgate said: “Reflecting on the last couple of months, clearly as an international manger you don’t have any games to quickly put the disappointment behind you.

“We have had a long period to reflect but now we are really looking forward to two high-quality matches that will be a great test for us and a crucial part of our preparation for the World Cup.”

England are looking to end their Nations League campaign with two good results in stern tests against Italy – who will not be in Qatar – and Germany.

Rashford, Sancho eyeing England spots

There is no doubt about it, there is wriggle room in that England attack.

Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden are certainties to make the World Cup squad for Southgate.

Arsenal star Bukayo Saka is growing to become part of that category too. However, looking at the latest Three Lions squad, the places of Tammy Abraham, Jarrod Bowen and Ivan Toney – as well as Jack Grealish to an extent – are all up for grabs.

Toney is of course a new inclusion, so he will have to work his socks off to stay in the England squad.

Bowen is in a similar bracket, with this squad only the second he has made after his first call-up in the summer. And while Grealish has the X-factor many fans are craving to see, he is only playing a bit-part role at Manchester City.

As for Roma striker Abraham, he is – as it stands – Southgate’s preferred back-up striker to Tottenham’s Harry Kane.

But, depending on where Southgate sees Rashford playing in his England team, Rashford could well bully his way past – or even feature alongside – Abraham.

Rashford has played as a central striker and out wide for Man Utd, so it depends where Southgate prefers him to play in his team.

If it is out wide, he has less of a chance of getting ahead of Sterling and Saka. But, if he continues starring more centrally, there is every chance he comes back in – especially given his regular role under Erik ten Hag.

Sancho is in the same boat, although his role as a winger is more defined than Rashford’s. Still, with Sterling and Saka ahead of him in the pecking order, he faces a battle.

If anything, the healthy competition for places only bodes well for Southgate ahead of the World Cup.