Gareth Southgate is set to hand James Maddison his first international start when England continue their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign against Ukraine.
The England manager, who has said he has no problem with Marcus Rashford flying to New York on holiday after the forward withdrew from the squad because of injury, is expected to name the Leicester playmaker in attack at Wembley on Sunday.
Maddison’s only previous cap came as a substitute and injury prevented him from making an impact after Southgate made the late decision to take him to the World Cup in Qatar.
The 26-year-old was an unused substitute when England opened their qualifying campaign by winning away to Italy for the first time since 1961. But Maddison has been in exceptional form for Leicester, and Southgate has decided to reward him by bringing him into the starting 11.
Jack Grealish, who started on the left against Italy, could make way for Maddison, whose only previous cap came as a substitute in 2019.
It represents a stunning turnaround for the midfielder, who was a surprise selection in England’s squad for the World Cup. It had seemed that Southgate was cold on him, but he has been impressed with his performances in training during this camp.
Rashford’s withdrawal, meanwhile, is the latest in a long run of absences, with the Manchester United forward having withdrawn from five international camps since 2020. He was enjoying some downtime in America while England were opening their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, raising some questions over his commitment to England, who are short of numbers.
There was a contrast with Luke Shaw given that the left-back has remained with the squad despite being suspended after his red card against Italy. Rashford has a history of playing for United after missing England matches.
But Southgate, who has allowed Reece James to return to Chelsea for treatment on a minor hamstring injury, was keen to play things down. He insisted Rashford has not hurt his future selection chances and batted away a question about the 25-year-old walking around New York when he was unable to represent his country.
“I wouldn’t think the levels are quite the same,” Southgate said. “Once he’s ruled out of the squad, it’s entirely up to him how he spends his time. The players don’t get a lot of break.
“Once they’ve got a little bit of time I’m sure our players will be flying off wherever after tomorrow’s game – if they get 48 hours with the schedule as it is I think they have to take advantage of it.”
England, who have also lost Mason Mount and Nick Pope to injury, have plenty of competition on the left wing but Southgate took Rashford to the World Cup and says the forward, who has 30 goals in 49 appearances for club and country this season, is part of his plans.
“He’s obviously played a lot for us,” he said. “He’s over 50 caps now for England and close to 50 of those have been since I’ve been the manager. I know what he’s capable of. It’s good to see him in goalscoring form.”
Southgate said there are no concerns over Jude Bellingham’s fitness after the midfielder limped off against Italy, while Ben Chilwell is expected to replace Shaw at left-back.
Southgate also confirmed he is yet to hold talks with Folarin Balogun over the Arsenal striker’s international future. The England Under-21 international, who is on loan at Reims, is also eligible to play for the USA and Nigeria. The USA interim coach, Anthony Hudson, has spoken to Balogun, who has scored 17 goals in Ligue 1 this season.
“It is a classic thing,” Southgate said of Balogun, who pulled out of the under-21 squad through injury. “Young players progress and you cannot perhaps give them the immediate opportunity that they would like and another country perhaps can offer them. It is up to the player to weigh up where his heart feels. Is he prepared to wait a little bit if he backs himself?
“Flo, we like. We would like him to give it some time. If he continues that progression there will be opportunities but I cannot offer him that this week. If we did I don’t think that would be fair on Ivan Toney, who has scored the goals he has in the Premier League.”