Gary Neville believes that Manchester United defender Harry Maguire is the most irreplaceable player in Gareth Southgate’s England squad ahead of the European Championships this summer.
Pundit Neville was discussing Southgate’s defensive dilemma, as the Three Lions boss considers his options in system; having opted for a back three at the 2018 World Cup, he has adopted a four-man back-line most recently.
In any event, Neville believes that Maguire, who is expected to feature alongside John Stones when England tackle their group opponents Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic once the domestic season is concluded, would present Southgate with the biggest selection concern if he was to be missing for any reason.
Judging by the name-checking of Tyrone Mings, Conor Coady and Eric Dier, Neville is not convinced that England have enough within their ranks to deal with such an absence.
It’s not a view shared by fellow pundit Jamie Carragher, who believes that at the front end of the pitch striker Harry Kane would be England’s most important player and therefore the most difficult to replace.
Former United defender Neville, Carragher and presenter David Jones discussed those matters on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football coverage.
The MNF transcript
Neville: “You’re always talking about two or three, I don’t think anybody questions them. I think specific issues for Gareth will be, imagine losing Harry Maguire, that’s a big problem for Gareth Southgate.”
Jones: “His biggest problem?”
Neville: “Yeah, I think it’s his biggest problem. If you’ve got John Stones as your other centre-back, you’ve got Stones and Mings as your other centre-backs, Stones and Coady, Stones and Dier – I’m not having it.”
Carragher: “You think Harry Maguire is a bigger loss than Harry Kane?”
Neville: “Yeah, I do, for this particular squad. I think Harry Kane is the best player in the squad but for this particular squad, if Gareth wants to have a back four and go forward with a 4-3-3, the only chance of that is with Harry Maguire fit, in my mind. We’ve seen Coady in a back four tonight, we’ve seen Mings – I like him – but I don’t think he can play in a back four at the level we’re talking about.”
Carragher: “Who fills in for Harry Kane?”
Neville: “I think it’s a problem as well with Harry Kane, he’s next on the list, but let me finish with the centre-backs first. I think you’ve got to think about who can play in a back three, if Maguire goes, who can play in a back three? That’s going to need to be considered.”
Jones: “So you’re always thinking about the worst case scenario?”
Neville: “If someone gets injured there is a thought of where do I go to. If Harry Kane gets injured, there’s a problem, you could then go with Rashford or Calvert-Lewin, Sterling as a false forward – there are options, I still think England can win games. If Maguire gets injured, the ability to go to a back four becomes lost and that’s why he still has the three at the back in his mind.”
Jones: “Are you discussing numbers, how many defenders they need to take? Do you have that set idea in your head?”
Neville: “The classic is the eight defenders, eight midfielders, four strikers, it inevitably doesn’t work out like that. You try and sometimes pinch a defender if you’ve got seven defenders, with midfielders that can play centre-back, that can happen. Where I think Gareth is very experienced is he won’t try and pinch a position.
“There’s two problems I’ve seen England managers have over a 25-year period: one where they try to have faith in a player that’s injured. To get a player who’s fit maybe for the second game, when you’ve got elite performers that have been there for maybe four weeks, getting ready, it very rarely gets them right. So, that’s one thing I don’t think Gareth will be caught out by. The next thing is: ‘Well, I won’t take a second left-back because so and so can play there’. It doesn’t work, it will catch you out.”
Carragher: “It caught me out!”
Nev: “Yeah, I got injured and Carra was the back-up right-back and it doesn’t work then David Beckham ended up playing there, so you try and pinch a position and that doesn’t work. So, for me, the two key positions on the pitch, I think Declan Rice being injured is a problem.
“I’d go Maguire because of the lack of options behind Maguire. Kane is the most important player but the problem is: the lack of depth behind Maguire as a dominant centre-half is nil, in my opinion. So, Maguire, Kane and Rice are the key players you wouldn’t want to get injured.”