England have been dealt a fresh injury concern ahead of the World Cup, with Kyle Walker facing a rush against time, but how concerned should Gareth Southgate be?
The Three Lions’ preparation for the fast-approaching winter World Cup has been far from ideal, with England suffering relegation in the Nations League.
Southgate’s men didn’t win any of their Nations League fixtures, and pressure is mounting on the England boss ahead of the World Cup, in what is a very different feel from the build-up to their last major tournament.
It’s for that reason the England boss will be desperate to have the best possible squad available ahead of heading to Qatar.
And the latest concern has come in the form of Manchester City star Walker, who has undergone groin surgery with just six weeks to go until the tournament gets under way.
The full-back has a chance of returning on time, but much will depend on how the early stages of his rehabilitation pan out. England have options should Walker be ruled out, but they should be concerned by his potential absence.
In an ideal world, the Three Lions would line up with Walker on the right side as one of three centre-backs in the World Cup, with Chelsea star Reece James at wing-back. While other games will see them adapt with a four-man back-line, able to choose between James and Walker on the right.
Should Walker not pass fit, Southgate may well have to put James in the back three when playing with wing-backs, which would be a huge waste of his attacking talents. Failing that, Southgate could bring in another out-and-out centre-back to allow James to play further up.
Though, the core of England’s back line would certainly lose pace in that scenario, potentially making them exposable. In terms of a flat back four, it’s likely Kieran Trippier will be an option to compete with James, amid his good form at Newcastle, while Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold has struggled for form this season.
None of those contingencies are ideal for England, though, and the Three Lions need experienced players who are used to Southgate’s system. This is the World Cup – nothing comes easy.
“He’s an important part of the progress we’ve made as a team,” Southgate said of Walker earlier this year. You can see in the big matches for (Manchester) City this season he’s still been an important player for them.”
England should be confident of getting out of their group this winter, likely needing two wins from games against Iran, USA and Wales. But beyond that, things will inevitably get tricky, and Walker’s pace and experience could prove crucial at a stage when England have traditionally shown a lack of it.
England have options aplenty to replace Walker, and high-level options at that. But Southgate will want players he can trust should the Three Lions qualify for, and play in those huge knockout ties.
Walker is a player he can rely upon, and in that back five, in particular, he gives England a serious edge, with Southgate able to double up on pace on that right side without adding defensive liability. The countdown is on for Walker, and indeed England.