Gareth Southgate has said Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho are just two of many forwards fighting for an England World Cup spot and he is happy with the attacking options at his disposal.
The Manchester United pair are at risk of missing out on Qatar 2022, with their absence from the current squad leaving them with just a few months of Premier League football and a couple of Nations League games in September in which to prove to Southgate they deserve a recall in time for the tournament, which gets under way in November.
Southgate says the profile of Rashford and Sancho means their omissions make headlines but insists they must prove they deserve a spot in his squad like any other player.
“My focus is on the players here now,” said Southgate when asked about the duo ahead of England’s Tuesday night Nations League clash with Hungary at Molineux.
“Whenever there’s a question about Man Utd it lands in their lap and becomes a bigger deal than everything else. With every player, if they’re playing well for their club then they’re going to be in our consideration, simple as that.
“There are lots of players who have the ambition of being in the squad for Qatar and it’s a challenge for all of them to look forward to.”
England have scored just once in their three games during this international break – Harry Kane’s penalty against Germany.
Asked about the quality of England’s strength in attack and whether that had been reduced from last summer’s European Championships, Southgate backed his current selections – although once again highlighted the team’s reliance on captain Harry Kane and senior forward Raheem Sterling.
“No, there was a perception of what we have and had and the reality of what Harry and Raheem have delivered compared to everyone else,” Southgate said.
“There were of course good players but if you look around the other squads around Europe there are good players. Our focus is on England but there are a lot of clubs around Europe searching for players this summer and ours have still got steps to take. That’s the challenge for all of us.
“I’m really happy with the options we’ve got. We’ve been able to refresh people. For someone like Jack [Grealish] to come in against Germany and Jarrod (Bowen) to have the impact he did is an indication of the depth we’ve got.
“We’ve not been able to have Phil (Foden) this time. There’s still some players who can really make a difference in games and there’s a good competition.”
In terms of his approach for the Hungary fixture, Southgate said he will again look to experiment to a certain extent as he continues to try to learn as much as he can about his squad and his options ahead of the World Cup.
Asked about his priorities and approach for the fixture, Southgate said: “Win the game, first of all. Through this period I’ve got several different objectives.
“There are players who are fresh and that could be important, the squad is important. There are things we want and need to see.
“We’ve got a different tactical challenge tomorrow, which every team in the group and lots of teams around Europe are finding difficult against Hungary. They’re a good side. There’s a lot for us to take from the game.
“This group of players have been incredible, their mentality, their desire to play for England, to work every day on the training pitch to get better, we’re fortunate to have a group as committed as they are.”
Southgate also confirmed every England player was fit to train on Monday, although Foden remained a doubt for the match given his recent layoff with Covid. “He’s back training but there’s a reality of the conditioning he’s had over the last three weeks,” Southgate said.
What’s next for England?
After the culmination of this month’s Nations League camp, England will next convene in September ahead of the two remaining group stage matches.
The Three Lions face Italy at the San Siro on September 23 before hosting Germany three days later at Wembley.
Southgate will submit a long list of players to FIFA on Friday October 21, but the England manager is expected to announce his final World Cup 23-man squad on either November 9-10. The FIFA deadline is Monday November 14.
England will depart for Qatar on Tuesday November 15 before they face Iran in their opening World Cup group game on November 21 at the Khalifa International Stadium, Doha.