Manchester United players have ‘a lot to do’ to make it to the World Cup, warns Southgate | England

Gareth Southgate has warned his missing Manchester United contingent they face a battle to reclaim their World Cup places, as he looked ahead to the challenges of an unprecedented mid-season tournament, which starts on November 21.

The English manager is preparing in Molineux on Tuesday evening for the fourth and final game of the Nations League program at the end of the season against Hungary. But his thoughts are increasingly focused on refining his roster for Qatar – an expected 26 players instead of the usual 23 – and how he will deal with what he called the “strange run-up” to the final.

While looking through the potential marginal gains, Southgate was asked if United’s lack of Champions League football next season would make their English players a little fresher. “We’ve only got one with us,” Southgate replied, winking at Harry Maguire. “They have a lot to do to get back into the squad.”

Southgate referred Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho – the former out of the picture due to injury, the latter left out due to poor form. Shaw has also had a disappointing season, although with Southgate without a recognized left-back – Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell only returned for his club on the last day of the season after a six-month cruciate ligament injury – Shaw appears to have a clearer route back.

Southgate was surprisingly unsympathetic to Rashford when he dropped him before the March meeting, pointing out that the attacker had withdrawn from six of the previous eight teams. He called the decision to exclude him and still overlook Sancho as “fairly easy.”

It’s not a phrase Southgate would use in connection with the World Cup countdown. After the game in Hungary, his players usually only have three weeks off before reporting to their clubs for season preparation and the games will come thick and fast once the new campaign starts. For example, the group stage of the Champions League will be shortened from September 6 to November 2.

Southgate said there are “midweek matches every week, whether that be a few League Cup weeks, at least six European weeks and midweeks with Premier League matches.” He added: “It is manageable but the demands on the players are huge and we are all aware that we cannot keep adding to the calendar.

“We are still paying the price of Covid, really… with three games in international windows, four games now [in the Nations League], partly because of the timing of the World Cup because we lose the October camp, so everything is condensed. I’m sure players will have more of a say in this and that’s understandable.”

Luke Shaw (left) has an easier route back to the England fold than Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho when fully fit. Photo: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC/Getty Images

England have only one camp left before they leave for Qatar on November 15: they will play Italy (away) and Germany (home) in the Nations League on September 23 and 26. The Premier League will be suspended after the games on the weekend of 12-13 November.

Southgate raised a potential problem ahead of the World Cup when he wondered what would happen if a club had an English player with an injury. Would they like to keep the information indoors, rather than tell the football association for fear of it leaking out to their prospective opponents?

Southgate will submit a long list of players to FIFA on October 21, although it does not have to be made public. He is expected to announce his final selection on 9 or 10 November. The FIFA deadline is Monday, November 14, when England will meet.

Southgate admitted he would have no control over the players in the weeks leading up to the Premier League break. “Information sharing is pretty good medically and we get the performance data from the Premier League, so you have some markers,” he said.

“But there is also always an understanding that clubs that play big games may not want to share certain things too early when they have players who can miss games. In general we have good relations with the clubs in that area, but there will always be an element of the unknown during that period.”

Next season’s Premier League matches will be announced on Thursday – the first game is on Friday, August 5 – and Southgate are hoping there will be no massive games over the weekend of 12-13 November. Indeed, the FA made that specific request.

“We have asked the Premier League to think about it, but we also understand that the match schedule is very complicated,” Southgate said. “We wouldn’t have a preference for any of those big games” [on 12-13 November] but to be honest the difference it’s going to make is pretty marginal.

“It might help us with a medical report. If a team played on Saturday, we would have an extra day to judge. Because we have to meet on Monday and fly on Tuesday. We will have to make very quick decisions, especially in medical situations. So that’s the only thing we look at that can help us. We understand the landscape, but we would be stupid not to ask the question if it could make a difference.”

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