Gareth Southgate explains why Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker are pivotal to England’s plans

Every football manager needs their go-to men, and Gareth Southgate confirmed Sheffielders Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker remain two of his despite leaving the latter out of his latest England squad.

If one was going to miss this month’s Wembley friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast, form would suggest Manchester United captain Maguire. But even with a surprise centre-back inclusion in Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi, Southgate said doing without the 29-year-old former Sheffield United and Hull City defender “never crossed his mind”.

Fellow Bramall Lane product Walker was deemed expendable, but only for these experimental games. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James were preferred but Walker has been assured he will be back for June’s four Nations League matches.

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His Barnsley-born Manchester City team-mate John Stones is selected.

England's Harry Maguire and John Stones (right) during a training session at St George's Park Picture: Nick Potts/PA

Whilst it might be harder to get out of this England squad than into it, it is not impossible. Maguire’s fellow Red Devils Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho have lost their places, even with injury preventing a first call-up for former Hull attacker Jarrod Bowen.

“I don’t think it ever crossed our mind not to select Harry Maguire for this squad,” said Southgate. “He’s been a key part of the starting XI that got us to a World Cup semi-final (in 2018) and a European Championship final (in July).

“You’ve got to look at who are our best players and the core of the team, and he is in that group. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s one of our best centre-backs and form in that sense is temporary.

“Harry is now over 40 caps, a consistently strong performer for us and was through the autumn as well. Hopefully he can continue that form with us.”

Manchester United's Harry Maguire celebrates scoring against Leeds United at Elland Road. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Rashford’s malaise pre-dates his bit-part carrying an injury through last summer’s European Championships, which he ended by missing in the final’s penalty shoot-out. So did Sancho, and although his form has picked up recently, it has not come quickly enough to edge out Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling or former Huddersfield Town loanee Emile Smith Rowe.

Walker has been in good form all season, though.

“I had a long chat with him and we felt this was an opportunity to look at the two younger full-backs,” explained Southgate. “We know all there is to know about Kyle, he’ll be back with us for the games in June.

“He’s a very important part of the progress we’ve made and you can see in the biggest matches for Manchester City he’s still been such a key player for them.”

England's Kyle Walker (left) battles with Hungary's Attila Fiola Picture: Attila Trenka/PA

Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford were not fit enough to compete for selection.

Hungary, Germany and Italy home and away in the Nations League could be England’s only other matches before this winter’s World Cup.

England squad: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Burnley), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal); Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Reece James (Chelsea), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Ben White (Arsenal); Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Crystal Palace), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Declan Rice (West Ham United), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton); Tammy Abraham (Roma), Phil Foden, Jack Grealish (both Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe (both Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).