England manager Gareth Southgate has vowed to continue selecting Manchester United duo Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, but admits that he would consider dropping both players if their positions in the team became “untenable”.
Both defenders have struggled to break into Erik the Hag’s starting lineup at Old Trafford this season, but the pair were still selected in Southgate’s 28-man squad for England’s final two UEFA Nations League fixtures against Italy and Germany.
The Three Lions suffered a slender 1-0 defeat against Italy in Milan last Friday before playing out a thrilling 3-3 draw with Germany at Wembley Stadium on Monday.
Maguire completed the full 90 minutes in both matches, but errors from the centre-back led to Germany taking a two-goal lead, with Ilkay Gundogan converting from the penalty spot and Kai Havertz rounding off a counter-attacking move with a brilliant finish beyond Nick Pope.
Meanwhile, Shaw came off the bench for the final 20 minutes against Italy, before starting and scoring the first of England’s three goals against Germany as they came from behind within 12 second-half minutes, only for Havertz to restore parity with an 87th-minute equaliser.
Many questioned the selections of both Maguire and Shaw in Southgate’s squad, but the England boss defends his decision to include both defenders in the first-team fold.
“That’s always going to be a challenge, especially regarding how much football they’ve had,” Southgate told reporters after the match via Sky Sports News.
“I know everyone will focus on Harry, but there were some very important moments Harry delivered during the two matches.
“Luke was another example of someone who is an outstanding footballer, so what do we do? Not pick Luke Shaw because he’s not playing enough football or do we pick a player who can do what you saw tonight?
“That’s always going to raise debate, but I think in these moments we’ve got to back our best and our most experienced players, unless we’re in a situation where it’s almost untenable and impossible to pick them.”
Despite operating with five defenders for the majority of their Nations League campaign, England kept only one clean sheet and conceded a total of 10 goals from their six matches in League A Group 3, but Southgate believes his set-up is not the primary reason for their defensive mishaps.
“I don’t think the system was responsible for any of the goals,” the 52-year-old added.
“I think that’s clear. So we were a bit naïve on the counter for the second, and the first and the third are individual errors. So in the end what pleased me was the threat we looked playing in that system. People are going to have an opinion, but I think it’s the best way for us.
“I have to accept there’s going to be a huge amount of noise, there has been, around individual and team selections, but if I’m going to be wishy-washy, change my mind, and not give us the best chance of winning, then it’s pointless me doing it.
“I think the players are committed to it, they know the more we play it the more comfortable we’ll be. I think there were some positive signs across the two games with it.”
England, who have failed to win each of their last six international matches, will next be in action when they face Iran in their opening group game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on November 21.