England v Ivory Coast: Why Gareth Southgate remains loyal to Harry Maguire

Loyalty counts for a lot with Gareth Southgate, which is why Harry Maguire has kept his place in this month’s England squad despite poor club form but the manager has warned it does have its limits.

The Sheffield-born former Hull City and Sheffield United defender will be hoping to win his 42nd cap when the Three Lions play Ivory Coast for the first time at Wembley this evening and with Southgate looking to make full use of what has had to be an experimental squad, and John Stones feeling a minor injury in the warm-up to Saturday’s win over Switzerland, there is every chance.

Southgate stood by Jordan Pickford during some poor form with Everton last season, and by Maguire after he was arrested on holiday in Greece.

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He named Maguire and Jordan Henderson in his European Championship squad despite neither being fit enough to start the tournament.

England's Harry Maguire. Picture: PAEngland's Harry Maguire. Picture: PA
England's Harry Maguire. Picture: PA

It has not been the same for everyone – Manchester City Yorkshire-born defenders Kyle Walker and Stones had lengthy spells out of the team after the 2019 Nations League finals and Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford has been dropped for these friendlies – but the fact 29-year-old Maguire has been a mainstay of all Southgate’s successful England sides has worked in his favour.

Southgate hinted that fewer alternatives than there are to his club-mates Rashford and Jadon Sancho were also a factor.

“He has got us to a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship final so there’s no doubt he’s more than capable of playing at the highest level,” said the former Middlesbrough manager. “He was very good for us in the autumn.

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“His club is in a difficult moment, there could be any number of reasons for that.

“That doesn’t mean players can be poor for a couple of years and still find their way in.

“Sometimes it depends on competition for positions. We’ve left some forward players out who haven’t been in good form but there’s direct replacements, experienced replacements, for those players.

“Selection is always a difficult conundrum because we’ve got players we know have performed well in an England shirt. There’s got to be some level of scrutiny of how people are playing at their clubs because that’s got to be a factor and – not so much for this week – who’s the opponent, who’s best suited to play against the opponent?

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“It is complicated and I know everyone has a view on who we should and shouldn’t be picking. In the end we need the best players possible playing at their best level to give ourselves the best chance of winning.”

That Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings was sat alongside Southgate on pre-match media duty suggests he will play tonight. It was he who filled in for Maguire on the left side of central defence in the opening matches of the last European Championship but as Maguire is right-footed, they could easily play together as in England’s last competitive match, if a 10-0 win in San Marino can be called that. Stones is out again.

Saturday’s solid debut for Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi is a challenge to Mings, but not one he is daunted by.

“It always feels like you’re on trial here in a good way because the talent of the players coming through and the players already here is so vast,” he said. “That’s a challenge I think people thrive in and are really excited by.

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“We’ve got players coming in for the first time that are playing to a really high level and that is only a good thing for England.

“That’s not something to be scared by or threatened by, I think it’s really healthy and I think we’ll see the benefits of that on the pitch.”

Southgate, who started with a back three on Saturday only to switch to a four for the second half, suggested tonight’s shape will be dictated as much by his personnel as the opposition.

“With the system (on Saturday) we tried to manage the two games and get all the players some game-time in positions where they’re comfortable and that meant at the beginning of the game there was always a chance we’d have a bit of a tactical problem,” he explained.

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“When we changed (formation) that was a better situation for us but that actually wasn’t a bad thing, the players had to solve problems during the game and that was another aspect we can learn from.”

Captain Harry Kane will be even more eager to play than usual as one more goal will take him to 50 for England and the next five matches are all away from Wembley – June’s two Nations League home games are at Molineux – with two of them, Hungary away and Italy at home, behind closed doors because of misbehaviour by the hosts’ fans at the European Championship.

Last six games: England WWDWDW; Ivory Coast LDWDWL

Referee: E Lambrechts (Belgium)

Last time: First meeting.

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