Gary Neville believes Gareth Southgate has a dilemma concerning injured defender Harry Maguire ahead of the Euro 2020 knockout stage.
The Manchester United man sat out the first group game against Croatia. The centre-back is still recovering from ankle ligament damage he sustained last month.
Maguire suffered ankle ligament damage in Manchester United’s Premier League win at Aston Villa on May 9 after Anwar El Ghazi awkwardly landed on him.
He has since returned to full training with the Three Lions, but Southgate kept him out of the 1-0 win over Croatia. Instead Southgate opted for Tyrone Mings and John Stones with the experienced Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier either side of them.
“I think Tyrone Mings did really well – it was an important match for him. Looking at John Stones and Mings as a partnership before the tournament, you would have concerns against the best teams,” Neville told Sky Sports.
“I know people have dismissed Croatia after the game, but not many were dismissing them before the game, so I would still say that’s a really good win for England against a good team.
“I think the reason Kieran Trippier played at left-back was his experience and know-how, meaning Mings had experience either aside of him.
“If Harry Maguire can get back to a level, he will come back in. But if he comes back in, I think if it’s not against Scotland, it has to be against Czech Republic. You couldn’t make Harry Maguire’s first game back a knockout game.
“Maguire must surface in the next two matches, otherwise I fear you won’t see him in the tournament, and it would be Stones and Mings to continue.”
The former England man also believes that England’s double pivot of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice is here to stay at the tournament. Both were impressive in the opening win over Croatia and Neville thinks the duo will be the first names on the team sheet.
“I think what we saw against Croatia was Southgate’s reaction to what all of us were thinking pre-tournament; that their weakness is defence, and that they’re going to need to keep clean sheets if they’re going to win this tournament.
Double pivot here to stay
“That double pivot, or the two midfield players in front of the back four, isn’t going to change, you can be absolutely sure of that.
“The big question is whether Kieran Trippier will remain at left-back; there is no doubt that Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell will be better going forward attacking-wise, but it’s whether Southgate feels Trippier gives the defence that edge in aiming for the clean sheet, which is so important.
“When you get to a tournament, you can talk about scoring goals all you like, but you know you’re going to come up against Portugal, France, Germany or Spain at some point in this tournament, and you’re going to have to defend well.
“My feeling after the Croatia game was that Shaw or Chilwell could come in, but that midfield won’t change. Jordan Henderson is not at the same level fitness-wise as Phillips and Rice. I feel Harry Kane is undroppable in this England team, but I’d put Declan Rice pretty much up there at the moment, he’s going to play every game.
“I think Kalvin Phillips now, with the way he played against Croatia, is going to play alongside him. It’s hard to see Southgate changing that. They’ve got a good partnership, good rotation in midfield, they pass well together, and they’re certainly more ahead in their fitness than Jordan Henderson at this time,” said Neville.
No change of plan
The former Manchester United man is also convinced Southgate’s plan will not change.
“I don’t think the players will get carried away with the emotion, and I don’t think Gareth will. Gareth doesn’t tend to get too high when they win a game, or too low when they lose a game. He’s seen a lot of international football, has seen a lot of tournament football, and understands what can happen.
“I think his game plan for Friday will have been set even before Croatia, and I don’t think that will change. He’s really methodical, and knows how he’s going to tackle each game. That will be set.
“It will be more interesting to see how Steve Clarke reacts to their defeat in the first game, there may be an emotional reaction that they need to be more attacking and proactive. But that would suit England, if Scotland came out and attacked, they could then play their football a little bit more. It’s important for both managers to remove emotion from this match, and stick to their game plans.
“I am sure Southgate will, it’s whether Steve Clarke reacts to the fact they had a disappointing first result against Czech Republic,” added Neville.