The Three Lions’ World Cup preparations kick-off with back-to-back matches against Germany and Brazil – glamour friendlies they approach without a spate of key players.
Raheem Sterling, Fabian Delph and Jordan Henderson have pulled out of the squad, following the withdrawals of Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Harry Kane.
Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino’s suggestion that the latter will be fit in time for the derby with Arsenal after the international break raised eyebrows, intensifying murmurings of a potential issue between clubs and country.
However, England boss Southgate could scarcely have been firmer in dismissing such talk.
“I knew Harry Kane was in trouble because he stayed down,” he said. “Harry Kane doesn’t stay down, so I knew already we had a potential problem.
“Both him and Harry Winks were scanned, both scans our medical department have reviewed – no way they were available for our two games.
“Spurs might risk them for the game with Arsenal, it’s a different matter.
“I’m hearing there’s talk of club v country – it’s a nonsense. The players are injured and cannot play.
“With some of the players it’s 100 per cent clear, there’s a scan. With a couple of the other lads that have been in, there’s ongoing injury issues with them.
“I have man-to-man discussions with them around, ‘where are you at with it?’ ‘how much risk do we want to take?’
“Having been a player, I am not a manager who just wants to wheel players out until they break, so I don’t take risks with players. It’s their livelihood, it’s their career.
“If we’re in a cup final or a critical game, maybe we have a really open conversation.
“But I think as a manager you have a duty of care to your players to make sure that things are done correctly.”
Uncapped Burnley midfielder Jack Cork was brought in on Tuesday following the latest batch of withdrawals rather than the likes of Jack Wilshere, Jonjo Shelvey or Drinkwater.
Chelsea midfielder Drinkwater has struggled for fitness since his summer move from Leicester and was sounded out by Southgate about joining up with the group.
“(Cork is) playing very well in a team that are playing well,” the England boss said in an interview with BBC Radio.
“He has played at every level for England previously.
“Danny Drinkwater I did speak to earlier in the week, but he feels he’s not fit enough to play.
“I think Jonjo is a different type of player – plays deeper, receives very deep, plays almost in a quarter-back position for his club.
“We were needing something a little bit different for these games, so I had a good chat with (Burnley manager) Sean Dyche as well about Jack and he’s delighted with what he’s doing and he’s a great character who has worked with a lot of the squad in the past. A really great moment for him.”
Cork bolsters a midfield that it is understood uncapped Ruben Loftus-Cheek – currently on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea – will be a part of against Germany from the start tonight.
Jack Butland looked likely to get the nod in goal, but on the eve of their friendly had to pull out of the squad after breaking his finger in training yesterday.
Butland’s unfortunate omission continues a trend for England and Southgate.
And for Butland, it carries unfortunate shades of a previous clash with Germany.
The 24-year-old fractured his ankle during a 2016 meeting with the Germans and missed a year of football as a result. He has returned to form and fitness and it was widely reported he would have started at Wembley.
The FA said Southgate would make no decisions over a replacement until after tonight’s game, leaving Joe Hart and Jordan Pickford as the contenders to face Germany.