Gareth Southgate reveals why he selected Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips in England World Cup squad
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The players were major doubts ahead of Southgate’s announcement on Thursday, with both Manchester City stars undergoing surgery in the last six weeks. As a result, the duo were always going to be tight calls for the England squad, and Pep Guardiola has been asked repeatedly for fitness updates for both players over the last few weeks.
Phillips returned on Wednesday night in City’s 2-0 win over Chelsea, the first time he’s played in nearly two months. Meanwhile, Walker has not played at all since 2 October and won’t feature before the World Cup break. Therefore, Southgate will have to work on both players’ fitness over the coming weeks, but he felt both were worth taking the risk.
“Kalvin played last night. I think with him, he’s free of injury and we are aware that he is not going to be able to play seven 90 minutes, that won’t be possible,” said the England manager. “We’re going to have to build his fitness level. But he’s available and free of injury.
“We don’t really have… we have Declan Rice as a holding midfielder. Hendo [Jordan Henderson] can play there but it’s not his No.1 position, but we don’t have a lot of cover for that role. Kalvin is a super player and we feel that is a risk worth taking. We also know that generally his fitness is good and we think he can add to the group.”
As for Walker, Southgate admitted the inability to select Reece James was a factor in selecting the City right-back. “Kyle is a little bit different,” he continued. “He’s not back in full training yet, but he’s going to be available before the end of the group stage.
“We had to make a really difficult call on Reece, who we think is a fantastic player, but he is going to be ready until, if everything went perfectly, the latter stages of the tournament. There were too many unknowns for us on that road to recovery and I don’t think we can take a player who is not available for the group. That would be deemed arrogant in some circles.
“But also, we would have been dropping, if everything went well and he was ready and we were picking him, then you would be dropping him into a quarter-final with eight weeks out. That would be really demanding. A tough call. Kyle is a long way ahead of that and is progressing really well.”