England have received a surprise boost ahead of their key World Cup qualifier at home to Poland with Robert Lewandowski ruled out of the encounter through injury.
Gareth Southgate had hailed Lewandowski as “an arch marksman who is a master of his trade” but the 32-year-old has returned to his club, Bayern Munich, after suffering a knee problem in the 3-0 win over Andorra in which he scored twice. The Polish FA say the striker will be out for 10 days with ligament damage which means he faces a race against time to be fit for next week’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Paris Saint-Germain.
Lewandowski’s absence against England deprives the encounter of a much-anticipated match-up between arguably the two best centre-forwards in world football with Southgate hailing the contribution of Harry Kane. The England captain scored his first international goal in seven matches in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Albania having said he cannot let the debate over his future at Tottenham Hotspur distract him ahead of this summer’s European Championships.
Southgate insisted he had not spoken to Kane about his club future but added that the 27-year-old was in a “good place” and has remained focussed. “What’s pleased me about Harry this week is that he’s been super positive about everything,” Southgate said.
“His view of where the club (Tottenham) are at, they’re three points off a Champions League place, League Cup final to look forward to. That’s the only thing he’s discussed with me.”
One permutation Southgate may consider is pairing Declan Rice and Mason Mount in central midfield especially if he switches to a 3-4-3 formation.
“I think as Mason physically develops, then he’s going to be more capable of playing in those deeper areas more regularly,” Southgate said of the Mount whose versatility means he is an almost certain starter at the Euros. “It is impossible to work with a player like him and not be impressed.”
The manager also praised the “maturity” of Rice who may become even more central to his plans should Jordan Henderson lose his battle to be fit in time for the tournament.
By Jason Burt
What are they saying?
Luke Shaw has promised not to let down England manager Gareth Southgate again after being handed an international reprieve and marking his comeback with an assist for Harry Kane.
Shaw, the Manchester United left-back, admitted that he and his parents thought he had blown his big chance with England after pulling out of squads, following his last international comeback against Spain in 2018. But Shaw has revealed his girlfriend never lost hope and the 25-year-old wants to make up for lost time and prove to Southgate that he can be trusted ahead of the summer’s European Championship.
Southgate now faces a welcome selection headache between the former Southampton academy graduate and Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell for tomorrow night’s World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley.
“I’ve a few massive regrets and I couldn’t stop thinking of the mistakes that I made in the past, especially with England,” Shaw said. “I pulled out of a lot of camps. “I was maybe not in the best condition, but I think over the last two years I’ve thought about it so much – that was my biggest regret. And yeah, of course, letting Gareth down. I tried to keep in touch with him just to let him know that things had changed.
“The last time I played [before Albania] was Spain. Of course, I wasn’t playing for my club much then and it showed that he [Southgate] still very much trusted me because he played me in that massive game. Yeah, maybe the camps after – my biggest regret is just pulling out and how I pulled out. “Maybe at the time, mentally I wasn’t right. I think playing for your country is a massive privilege and an honour, and I think, at times, I took advantage of that.”
Referencing the difficulties Shaw faced while Jose Mourinho was United manager, he added: “I did have problems at the time, as in injuries, but maybe they were ones that could have been sort of dealt with, but there was a lot on my mind, especially in times I had at United. “People obviously know what was going on, but Gareth has given me another chance and I need to prove to him that, of course, I’m different and I want to be part of this squad.”
There is a constantly updating list Gareth Southgate keeps of the “batting order in every position, a depth chart, at any given time” of who is in and who is out of his 23-man England squad for the forthcoming European Championship.
But while the England manager was careful to stress that Wednesday’s final competitive fixture ahead of the tournament, against Poland, was about taking a significant step towards qualifying for next year’s World Cup, Declan Rice was a bit more revealing.
“It is a chance to go out and make a statement and put on a good performance,” the midfielder said. He added that it was the “last chance” to stake a claim for inclusion, and especially because Poland represent a step-up in competition and are “closer to the opposition we will be facing in the Euros” after routine victories over San Marino and Albania.
It will not be an easy night for England as Poland will represent a serious increase in quality of opposition from their previous two encounters. But, with Lewandowski unavailable, England will have enough to secure victory.
Verdict: England 2 Poland 1
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