Dier, Bellingham, Toney: The key issues facing England ahead of Nations League double-header

·2-min read
Dier, Bellingham, Toney: The key issues facing England ahead of Nations League double-header

After a shambolic summer, England are set for a Nations League double-header with Germany and Italy less than two months before the 2022 World Cup.

Having come under intense scrutiny earlier this year, Gareth Southgate is still looking for answers ahead of his third major tournament in charge of the Three Lions.

Malik Ouzia looks at the key issues facing England…

Centre-back pecking order

Eric Dier could make a late play to break into England’s starting XI (The FA via Getty Images)
Eric Dier could make a late play to break into England’s starting XI (The FA via Getty Images)

Eric Dier’s recall is deserved but also hints at the way Gareth Southgate is still scrambling for a solution to a centre-back puzzle that does not have an obvious one.

Harry Maguire is woefully out of form, while Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi are in better nick but unproven at international level. Conor Coady is valued in the dressing room, but apparently less so on the pitch.

John Stones is certain to start in Qatar, but of the five other centre-backs in this squad, at least one will join him in facing Iran and at least one will watch from home. Right now, it seems any of them could fill either role.

Can Bellingham and Rice partnership flourish?

Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice look the future of England’s midfield (Getty Images)
Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice look the future of England’s midfield (Getty Images)

Jude Bellingham’s displays in the Champions League this season had already strengthened his increasingly irrefutable case before Kalvin Phillips’ shoulder injury removed the last grain of doubt over the teenager’s place in England’s strongest XI.

Jordan Henderson’s unexpected recovery from injury, announced on Tuesday morning, has bolstered Southgate’s options but the England boss will surely be looking at a partnership between Declan Rice and Bellingham that could become a fixture for a decade.

On the evidence of the duo’s time together against Germany and Hungary in June, however, there is work to be done this week on preparing it for a World Cup only two months from now.

Final round of striking auditions

Ivan Toney has been in excellent form for Brentford (REUTERS)
Ivan Toney has been in excellent form for Brentford (REUTERS)

Like an apocryphal tale of an unheralded actor landing an Oscar-winning role after everyone else had turned it down, could England be about to finally find their Harry Kane deputy at the last knockings?

It seems unlikely Ivan Toney will be afforded vast amounts of playing time over these two matches, so what he does behind closed doors at St. George’s Park will be crucial in convincing Southgate to take him to Qatar.

Whether he, Tammy Abraham and the rest not involved this time are vying for a single place or two may depend on Marcus Rashford, who could offer further cover at centre-forward if fit and recalled in November.