Selection issues remain as England under pressure to beat revitalised Germany

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 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

Gareth Southgate was sat watching from the bench the last time England played Germany in Munich.

The then 30-year-old was an unused substitute as Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side dismantled Germany 5-1 in 2001 to record their biggest victory over their great rivals.

Southgate can still vividly recall that game 21 years ago, even remembering that Germany played with two man-markers and a sweeper, and says it was a night he learned “a hell of a lot”.

Returning as England manager tonight, Southgate (below, at training yesterday) will be hoping to learn plenty about his own players when they take on Germany in the Nations League. With 168 days and five games left until England face Iran in their World Cup opener on November 21, there are still issues in the team that Southgate needs to resolve.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

There are some certainties: Harry Kane will lead the line; Declan Rice has to start in midfield; and Jordan Pickford has a firm hold on the goalkeeping position after a strong end to the season.

Beyond that, though, questions remain, particularly at the back, where England have been hit with a spate of injuries. Ben White has already pulled out of the squad, Fikayo Tomori is missing again tonight, while Marc Guehi is only just returning to fitness.

It means a back-three of Harry Maguire, John Stones and Kyle Walker should start at the Allianz Arena tonight, mainly out of necessity as much as choice.

The back-three itself is a bone of contention, partly because it starves England of attacking players but also because wing-backs have struggled in Southgate’s system.

Trent Alexander-Arnold does not look anything like the player he does for Liverpool, which has opened the door for Reece James, who is England’s most natural wing-backs and has thrived there for Chelsea.

England are under pressure and Southgate is also hoping to learn about his players’ mentality

Southgate is spoiled for choice on the right, but on the left flank the opposite is true, and Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw’s absence has only highlighted a lack of depth there.

“That’s partly why we brought James Justin into the squad,” said Southgate. “Kieran [Trippier] has done that for us well. Bukayo [Saka] as a wing-back can provide that cover, but even as a left wing-back, there aren’t lots of players who have fulfilled that role with their clubs. There aren’t a huge number of really experienced players who we feel would be able to come in and do that.”

Further forward, who partners Rice in midfield is a dilemma. Jude Bellingham has impressed for Borussia Dortmund but would appear more comfortable playing in a midfield three, while Kalvin Phillips has struggled with form and fitness this season.

Deciding who to play either side of Kane is the final piece of the jigsaw. Given his record at major tournaments, Raheem Sterling should start, but beyond that there are countless options: Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Saka, take your pick.

After losing 1-0 to Hungary on Saturday, England are under pressure tonight and Southgate is also hoping to learn about his players’ mentality as they prepare for Qatar.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

“We’ve talked a lot about how we could be in the middle of a tournament now,” he said. “In our previous two tournaments we have won our first [group] game and qualified comfortably after our second.

“This is the sort of scenario we could find ourselves in, where there is more pressure and there is the need to go and perform against the big team in the second game. How are we going to react to that, how are we going to be as a group over the next 10 days?”

Standing in England’s way are a Germany team reborn since their Euro 2020 defeat to England at Wembley last summer.

Hansi Flick, who was appointed after the tournament, has built the team around the Bayern Munich side he led to Champions League glory in 2020, with seven players from the German champions in the starting XI against Italy last Saturday.

It is a level of familiarity Southgate must be jealous of and it is clearly working, as Germany are unbeaten in 10 games under Flick. They are undoubtedly among the contenders for Qatar.

Tonight, England and Southgate will be out to remind people tonight that they are, too.

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