Harry Maguire is confident he can recover from his ankle injury to make the bench when England play the Czech Republic in their final game in Group D.
The Manchester United defender gave England a boost by returning to training on Thursday. Maguire, who has not played since damaging ankle ligaments on 9 May, is making good progress and there is growing optimism that he will be among the substitutes at Wembley on 22 June.
Southgate does not intend to take risks with Maguire. The 28-year-old resumed running only last week and he is set to miss out when England play their first Euro 2020 game against Croatia on Sunday. England’s second match, against Scotland on 18 June, is also expected to come too soon for Maguire.
Having worked hard in the gym on his rehabilitation, Maguire raised spirits in the England camp by joining his teammates at training on Thursday. The centre-back is one of England’s most influential players and would be guaranteed to start alongside John Stones in Southgate’s strongest starting XI. Maguire’s importance is such that England are pondering whether to use a back three in his absence.
Southgate was unwilling to leave Maguire out of his squad, even though he gave no assurances last week over the United captain being fit before the knockout phase. The manager has also shown patience with Jordan Henderson, who has played only one half of football since suffering a groin injury on 20 February. The midfielder has insisted that he is ready to face Croatia.
With Maguire unavailable, Southgate could be forced to tweak his defensive system. Doubts remain over whether Tyrone Mings, Conor Coady or Ben White are ready to partner Stones in a back four, and England have trialled Luke Shaw as the left-sided centre-back in a back three in training this week.
England could line up with four full-backs if Shaw plays at centre-back against Croatia and they would also be forced to drop one of their creative players. Reece James, the Chelsea full-back, has also trained at right centre-back this week.
Maguire’s presence at training was welcomed by James. “We all know how much of a key player he is in this squad,” the right-back said. “You can see how big an influence he has when he didn’t play in the Europa League final. It’s great to see him back on the training field today and hopefully he’s back soon.”
James has trained at right-back, wing-back and right centre-back. “I’ve played all three so far,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen or what position I might feature in.”