Time is running out for Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to book their England place at the World Cup finals.
That is the harsh reality facing the Manchester United pair, according to Gareth Southgate, after he omitted them from his latest squad for next month’s Nations League clashes – against Hungary, Germany and Italy. And with only one more international break to come next season before the finals kick off in mid-November, the England boss admits opportunities to get back into the reckoning are fast disappearing.
What Southgate needs to see more than anything is Rashford and Sancho, with 46 and 23 caps, respectively, playing regularly for United – and consistently close to their best. That was definitely not the case last season with neither an automatic pick for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer nor Ralf Rangnick.
Southgate insists that must change as Erik ten Hag assumes the Old Trafford reins – if they are to be genuine contenders for the plane to Qatar. Asked if it can be done, he said: ‘’Yes, because I think there’s enough of a block of games at the beginning of next season for people to still play their way in. Of course, the closer we get, the more difficult it is. But they’ve got to to start playing well with their club. Neither of them really played at the end of the season.
“England is a consequence of what you’re doing at your club – and you’ve got to get your club bit right. At the moment there’s obviously room for those two. But compared to the others being picked in those positions, they haven’t been at the same level .”
The arrival of former Ajax boss Ten Hag should at least provide some stability at United – and fresh incentive for local lad Rashford and £75million ex-Borussia Dortmund ace Sancho. And the same, therefore, applies to defender Harry Maguire following his testing season within the Reds’ leakiest rear-guard since 1979.
Not that the England man, with 42 caps, need worry about keeping his international place at this moment. Southgate argues Maguire’s stats for 2021-22 warrant his inclusion.
“There’s a big change at the club that is going to affect everything there. For me, he is still their best centre back,” added the former Three Lions defender. I am sure their manager will watch the games back and have his own view. For us, he’s been consistently, with all our data across the season, amongst our top two or three defenders.”
As the Ten Hag era launches, there are no guarantees United, who had four players on the the pitch at the end of last summer’s Euros final reverse, will provide anything so substantial at the World Cup. Southgate was cautious about a healthy United boosting boost the country’s festive ambitions.
He went on: “A good Man Utd doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of England players in there. They’re going to recruit from around the world.”