GARETH SOUTHGATE is ready to put his reputation on the line for Harry Maguire.
Defiant England boss Southgate and captain Harry Kane gave huge backing to the out-of-favour Manchester United captain, who has not started in the Premier League since the 4-0 humiliation at Brentford on August 13.
Maguire is set to start against Italy in the Nations League on Friday with the Three Lions needing a win to avoid relegation into League B which could affect the team’s seeding for the Euro 2024 qualifiers.
Asked if he is showing too much faith in Maguire, Southgate said: “Whatever reputation I have, I’m putting it on there.
“You always have to back your judgement and we feel he is an important player.
“If we thought there were experienced players ready to step in and play at a level above him there would be a different consideration and in some positions there would be a different level of competition in that way.
“He is our most dominant aerial centre-back.
“Him and John Stones are incredible with the ball – the amount of pressure they have taken for the team in tournaments we have played because we don’t always have that midfield pivot player who can progress the game.
“It means there is a huge amount more pressure on our centre backs to use the ball well and those two are as good as any in world football at doing that.”
Since the Brentford thrashing, Maguire, 28, has played just 101 minutes under new United boss Erik ten Hag with a sub appearance in the 3-1 home win against Arsenal plus two Europa League outings.
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Southgate added: “Look, clearly, it’s not an ideal situation. You want your best players playing regularly so that they’re physically in a good place and mentally in a good place.
“But he is an important player for us. I think it’s important to back our best players.
“I haven’t felt the need to speak to him any differently to the rest of the players. I try and speak individually with them all.
“That’s been a bit more complicated this time because we’ve got 28 players so I’m getting there.”
England skipper Kane also backed Maguire, who helped his country reach the World Cup semi-finals in Russia four years ago.
The Spurs forward added: “There’s been some unfair criticism.
“Harry has been incredible in an England shirt for a long period of time now, going back to the World Cup in 2018.
“Of course he would be the first to admit his club form has not been as good as he would like, but that doesn’t take away from what a great player he is.
“He is finding himself at a stage where he is having to fight his way back into the Man Utd team and knowing him – and I do very well – he will be working very hard to do that, to use these games or whenever he next has the opportunity, to prove he should be in the starting XI and that is down to him.”
Jordan Henderson did not train yesterday so will not be involved tonight at the San Siro.
Jude Bellingham is set to start in midfield next to Declan Rice with Kalvin Phillips out injured.
England also face Germany at Wembley on Monday. Southgate added: “These are two important games.”