2022 – Kyle Walker will be vital in England’s World Cup campaign, Southgate hints | England

Gareth Southgate has thrown a strong hint that Kyle Walker will be key to England’s World Cup campaign, praising the Manchester City defender’s leadership qualities and highlighting his influence.

Walker has played 67 caps, and at 32 may be approaching the winter of his international career. He can play on the right side of three defensive players but faces competition from Reece James, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kieran Trippier at right-back if Southgate in Qatar is a factor in his preference for a defensive quartet. When asked about the leaders on his team, the manager spoke unmoving about Walker in a way that suggested it would be difficult to kick him out of any core team.

“You can tell the players are getting older,” he said. “For example, Kyle Walker, who is not his captain but a guy like him in the group, on and off the field and I think he’s matured a lot in the last two or three years. He’s won the league four times so he trusts what he’s done as a player. He’s played with us in the semi-finals. The World Cup and the European Cup final, so he has a lot of experience in the big matches.”

Although his rivals are under ten years old, Walker’s speed and athleticism have not diminished. He was England’s most impressive player in last week’s game against Germany, playing at right-back and Southgate citing a moment from that night as an example of his quality.

“It doesn’t have to be really noisy, though [it’s] His way, his determination in the way he works,” he said. “There was a chance for Germany when Trippier got up at the far post and defended it well, but if you look at Walker, his desire to stop the cross means the guy needs to lift it instead of just hitting it in the can

“It’s little things that the majority of stadiums probably don’t think about very much, but when you look at what wins football matches, it is the things that win football matches. That hunger, that urgency he brings; and he brings that to the training ground.”

Gareth Southgate speaks with Kyle Walker during the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy. Photo: John Sibley/AFP/Getty Images

Walker is likely to return to the starting line-up for Tuesday night’s rematch against Hungary, who defeated England at Molino in Budapest earlier this month. With England not winning in their last three games and without a goal from open play, there will be an added element of pressure even before considering their position at the bottom of the National League Group A3. Relegation from the top flight in the competition would mean they risk a tighter qualifying group for Euro 2024, but Southgate stressed that the short-term issue of managing the health of his players amid a busy schedule should be a priority.

‘Which – which [relegation] It’s another consideration for everything, but it’s not fundamental to me.” “What I don’t want to do is send a team off and we end up with a serious injury and we lose a player in the World Cup because I put them in the wrong time.”

Southgate believes that while England have faltered over the past 10 days, most of their World Cup rivals are in the same boat. “I don’t think anyone in Europe is in a position to be really happy and think they are the best candidate,” he said.

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Harry Kane will lead England after coming off the bench against Hungary. Phil Foden has missed the last three matches due to Covid-19 and although he is training, his return remains in doubt.

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