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Left-back has become England’s new Achilles heel

Gareth Southgate with Luke Shaw

Gareth Southgate described the inclusion of Luke Shaw in his provisional Euro 2024 squad as a “long shot” and should his gamble fail to pay off, it would leave England heading into a major tournament without a recognised left-back.

There was debate not so long ago over whether it should be Shaw or Ben Chilwell starting for Southgate in a race almost too close to call, but having established his No 1 the stance is clear: Shaw or nothing. With Chilwell not included in the 33-man training squad, the cover at left-back is playing Kieran Trippier or Joe Gomez out of their natural position.

Southgate has done this before, not often but once recently by his own volition. Three years ago at the delayed Euros, he picked Trippier ahead of Shaw and Chilwell for the opening match against Croatia, citing his 1v1 ability as the biggest reason. Trippier was up against Sime Vrsaljko and had the great Luka Modric drifting onto his side of the pitch, with England keeping a clean sheet with their surprise back line.

Chilwell, in fact, was left out of the match-day 23-man squad that day and has been in and out of the squad since because of injuries. He can feel somewhat harshly dealt with having improved across the two matches of the March internationals, after starting poorly against Brazil.

He picked up a knock during that international break, then lost his club place to Marc Cucurella who played his part in Chelsea finishing the season strongly. With little football heading into the summer, Southgate went with Trippier as the main back-up as Shaw recovers from a hamstring injury.

“I have to say he’s up against it. He’s missed a lot of football,” said Southgate. “The fact that he’s been our first choice in that position, we’re probably giving him a bit longer than we might have done. Again, I’m not sure what’s realistic at this moment in time. I’ve talked with him, the medical team, liaising with Manchester United very closely but, yeah, I’d have to say he’s a long shot.”

Shaw’s importance to Southgate was established during that Euro 2020 tournament and his goal in the final against Italy that had fans dreaming of football coming home. He has not played since February and after a setback in his recovery from a muscle problem is a huge doubt for the FA Cup final and now the summer.

Kieran Trippier
Kieran Trippier is an England stalwart but has not been in great form this season and has suffered from injuries - PA/Nick Potts

Trippier represents a risk for Southgate as well. While he provides Southgate experience off the pitch and set-piece threat on it, the Newcastle full-back has not been in great form this season and has been recovering from a calf injury that ruled him out for two months. His start against Manchester United last week was his first since March 2.

Other options were a gamble for Southgate. Trippier’s team-mate Tino Livramento has played eight times at left-back this season but the talented 21-year-old is uncapped. Tyrick Mitchell has been part of the Oliver Glasner revolution at Crystal Palace but has not played for England in two years. He was clearly not in Southgate’s plans when squad selections were analysed this season. Jamaica are expected to attempt a nationality change for the 24-year-old.

Rico Lewis is at home in most places on the field and showed he could play at left-back when he was selected against North Macedonia. Levi Colwill looked less comfortable in that position when selected against Australia and has been out injured in any case. One leftfield left-back option was Leif Davis. He has enjoyed a stunning two seasons at Ipswich and was watched by Steve Holland last month.

Fikayo Tomori also played there against Malta in the qualifiers, although it was opposition where he was never exposed to much danger. But in the end Southgate has gone with a player he trusts in Trippier, while Gomez is versatile and can help in a number of areas.

“I am enjoying my football and enjoying playing different positions,” said Gomez when he returned to the England squad. “First and foremost, I see myself as a centre-half and with age and time, you take it in your stride and enjoy it. I embrace these opportunities, given my past, which is the main thing.”

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