England’s World Cup squad: how Gareth Southgate will arrive at his big decision | David Hytner

Before Thursday’s announcement of the 26 players England intend to take to Qatar, we look at the manager’s thought processesGareth Southgate is not a fan of the 26-man tournament squad, believing it is more difficult to manage. And yet there is an upside. It allows him to include one or two players who have been out with injury and may not be ready to feature in the early ties. Before the European Championship in the summer of last year, which England kicked off on 13 June, Harry Maguire had been out with ankle ligament damage since 9 May and Jordan Henderson was only just coming back from the groin operation he underwent in late February. Southgate selected them both and it paid off handsomely in the case of Maguire, who missed the opening two group games but ended up in the team of the tournament. This time, Southgate has decisions to make over Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker – likely starters under normal circumstances. Phillips was named on the Manchester City bench on Wednesday night for the Carabao Cup tie against Chelsea, his first such involvement since undergoing shoulder surgery towards the end of September and came on after 50 minutes. His minutes total for the season before the game stood at 14. Walker, meanwhile, is behind him in terms of a comeback date after groin surgery on 4 October, although Pep Guardiola says Walker “feels really good”. Both are expected to receive good news from Southgate. There is sadly no decision to make on Reece James, another key player, who has not played since injuring a knee for Chelsea on 11 October. He is simply too far away from fitness.

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