Harry Maguire and John Stones are preparing to line up together once again after the old friends and England team-mates helped one another through rocky periods.
Having duelled during their time in the Sheffield United and Barnsley youth set-ups, the Yorkshire duo went on to become part of the defence that provided the base for the Three Lions’ memorable run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
Maguire and Stones are ready to team up again when England head to Albania for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier, with the latter set to make his first international start since November 2019.
A dip in form and game time at Manchester City put the 26-year-old out of the international reckoning, only for an impressive resurgence to bring around a deserved recall ahead of the rearranged Euros.
Maguire has also had ups and downs since their last appearance together, with a high-profile Greek court case seeming to impact his performances for club and country early in the season.
“We always speak away from football,” the Manchester United captain said of Stones.
“He’s a good friend. I grew up with him, I grew up playing against him when he was at Barnsley.
“We’re not far from each other where we actually grew up and lived and come through.
“When you play centre-back especially, week in, week out you’re going to have some ups, you’re going have some downs, you’re going to be at fault.
“You’re not going to go throughout your career without being at fault for goals, so you get scrutinised when you play in the Premier League so you expect that.
“It’s about how strong you are mentally and how you can come through it.
“I’m pleased to see John. He’s back playing and back playing with confidence, back playing really well. And for myself, I feel exactly the same.”
Asked if they leaned on each other, Maguire added: “Yeah, definitely. We spoke to each other through times where it’s tough. We spoke when it was tough and we speak when it’s going well.
“Like I say, I’m close with John. I want him to play as well as you can without winning football matches, if possible!
“You go through ups and downs and it’s about how you bounce back and believing in yourself and working hard. That’s only what you can do.”
Maguire feels back to his best after his early season wobble, when poor form at United was compounded by his sending-off in a costly 1-0 Nations League loss to Denmark in October.
Southgate felt that moment helped to “bottom everything out” for the 28-year-old, who has retained the faith of the England boss and United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
“Obviously getting the red card against Denmark was disappointing for myself,” Maguire said.
“The support that I’ve got from friends, family, and obviously Gareth and Ole at Manchester United, the faith that they’ve shown in me and the trust that they’ve shown in me to keep picking me, keep playing me.
“When I’m available, I’ve always been selected in the England squad, so that gives me great confidence and I feel the trust with that.
“I think a big thing when you are going through downs, you know that you’ll always come out if you keep strong and keep fighting and keep working hard.”
Maguire is a shoo-in for this summer’s rearranged tournament, five years on from going to the Euros in France as an England fan.
The defender is excited by the progress being made by Southgate’s side and brushed aside concerns of burnout having played 48 games already for club and country this season.
“No, it’s not something I’ve thought about, burnout,” he said. “I don’t look into the negative thoughts, I’m always positive. I see it as a positive.
“I’m working hard when I’m not playing, I’m looking after myself and mentally and physically I feel like I’m in a good place.
“It is a lot of games, playing every three or four days for my club. I don’t think we’ve had a free week to prepare for a game, so I think the hardest part is probably not training a lot and not doing any short, sharp little games.
“I played a little three v three the other day in training and it was probably my first small-sided game I’ve had for a long time.
“It’s something I see as a positive. I’ve played 48 and I feel good, so I feel like I’m more than capable of coping with the remainder (of the season).”