Gareth Southgate will not see his England players until March and with only four games left to go before the European Championship, he has more questions than answers to think over for the next four months.
The good news is that Southgate might not quite have the selection headache he may have expected, but none of his experiments during England’s latest round of games really came off and those hoping to prove a point largely failed to do so.
Here, Telegraph Sport looks at the questions Southgate did not get answers to in the final two European Championship qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia.
Is Trent Alexander-Arnold the answer in midfield?
With Jordan Henderson playing his club football in Saudi Arabia and Kalvin Phillips not playing for his club, Southgate took the opportunity to get a good look at Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield. He was good, but nothing special in a scrappy overall England performance against Malta, picking out some good passes.
But in Skopje, he gave the ball away too easily and did not look entirely comfortable next to Declan Rice. For all Phillips’ troubles at Manchester City, he and Rice have a good understanding and that was missed against North Macedonia. Trent’s inclusion also makes it a little more difficult to play with an out-and-out No 10, which is where Jude Bellingham has flourished recently. Alexander-Arnold did not harm his chances of going to Euro 2024 at all but, for now, Southgate is unlikely to be convinced that he should start in Germany.
What is England’s best left side?
Robbed of most of his left-back options, Southgate was forced to be creative over the two games. Fikayo Tomori was asked to play out of position to cover for the injured Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell against Malta, but lasted only 45 minutes before being replaced. In Skopje, Rico Lewis was handed his debut and was unfortunate to give away a first-half penalty that was awarded following a Var check. Lewis played as a hybrid midfielder, while Tomori had played more like a third centre-back with Kieran Trippier pushing further forwards at Wembley.
The only answer Southgate really got from the two games is that he could really do with Shaw and Chilwell being fit this summer. The England manager also looked at two different options on the left side of his attack, with Marcus Rashford offering little and Jack Grealish seeing a goal chalked off for offside. With Cole Palmer now part of the squad and Raheem Sterling pushing for a recall, Southgate will still not be certain who his first-choice starter on the left of his front three is.
Who is Harry Kane’s deputy?
Ollie Watkins got another go at making himself Kane’s number one stand-in, but Ivan Toney may still feel he can force his way back in for the summer on Monday night’s evidence. Watkins was denied an early goal by a decent block, but misjudged a good headed chance from a Phil Foden cross. England simply will not find another Kane, and Watkins had come out of the last England camp with credit after scoring against Australia.
Callum Wilson’s injury problems may leave him with an uphill task to travel to the tournament, but Toney has the chance to give Southgate something to really think about when he returns from his eight-month ban in the new year. It was not a surprise when Southgate called for Kane around the hour mark in Skopje and he forced a headed own goal with his first touch. Watkins will count his night as an opportunity missed.
Can England count on Harry Maguire?
Maguire deserves credit for the way in which he has battled his way back into the Manchester United team, but these were two more unconvincing performances for England. Against Malta, Maguire struggled with his passing without John Stones next to him. The Manchester City defender is indisputably one of Southgate’s most crucial players. It was interesting that Maguire was moved from the left of centre to the right for the North Macedonia match, but, again, his distribution let him down.
He was let off the hook by Var after giving the ball away and then comically falling into Eljif Elmas, with replays showing it should have been a penalty. Marc Guehi, on the other hand, was calmness personified in both qualifiers and there must now be an argument to test the Crystal Palace star next to Stones against Brazil and Belgium in March. Southgate has been incredibly loyal to Maguire, but he surely must wonder whether Stones and Guehi are now the way forward.