England vs Lithuania: Gareth Southgate may have to ditch three-at-the-back formation after Chris Smalling injury

Matt Law
The Telegraph
Chris Smalling (centre) is unavailable - Rex Features
Chris Smalling (centre) is unavailable - Rex Features

Gareth Southgate has been forced to reconsider his three-at-the-back England experiment after Chris Smalling withdrew from the squad to face Lithuania on Sunday with a knee injury.

Smalling has been replaced by Ben Gibson, but the Middlesbrough defender had still not joined up with the England squad on Friday afternoon – making it highly unlikely he will be drafted straight into Southgate’s team.

That means Southgate is most likely to revert back to a back four with John Stones coming in to partner Michael Keane, who won his first senior cap against Germany, in the centre of defence.

It also opens up the possibility of Raheem Sterling, who was rested for the friendly in Dortmund, to come back into the side, while Jesse Lingard is also under consideration.

Pick your England team to face Lithuania

Smalling was the third player to pull out of Southgate’s initial squad for the games against Germany and Lithuania, following the withdrawals of Michail Antonio and Phil Jones.

“We’re missing a few but we’ve got a good conveyor belt and some really good options,” said goalkeeper Joe Hart. “We’re certainly not having to downgrade in what we do, we just replace and bring someone into the fold and it’s another opportunity for someone to show what they can do at international level.”

Asked about Gibson, Eric Dier said: “I played with him on quite a few occasions with the Under-21s and he’s a very good player. He has been getting a lot of praise for what he’s done at Middlesbrough this season and you never know, he might even make his England debut.


“With this group of players, it’s easy to settle in. Everyone knows Ben quite well. A lot of people have played with him in the younger age groups. I’m sure he’ll be just fine.”

England players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect for those killed and injured in the Westminster terror attack, and there will be a minute’s silence ahead of kick-off.

The Football Association have threatened to ban England fans responsible for singing about war and the IRA in Germany, just hours after the attack in London.

“In general, the fans have been fantastic with us wherever we go,” said Dier. “The support they give us is always amazing. But all we ask is that they support us in the right way and they’re respectful.

“Because of the dreadful things that happened in London, we just hope the fans are very respectful of that. We’re going to respect everything in the right way and we’re going to do everything to honour the people who passed away this week.”

Asked about the impact the terror attack made on the England squad, Tottenham Hotspur’s Dier added: “It’s horrible. You never want to see things like that, especially where you live. First thing I did was ring my mum because she works not too far away from there. It’s not very nice.”

England rugby union coach Eddie Jones watched Southgate’s squad train on Friday and was due to speak to them in the evening to pass on some of his secrets.


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