Reece James has been left devastated after Gareth Southgate told Chelsea’s injured right-back that he will not be named in England’s World Cup squad.
James has been pushing to recover for Qatar since sustaining a knee ligament injury against Milan last month. He was confident of being available for the knockout stages but Southgate has decided that he cannot gamble on the defender’s fitness. England’s opening game against Iran is on 21 November and there have been indications that James will not be fit until December.
It is another huge blow for England’s manager, who has lost the Chelsea left-back Ben Chilwell to a torn hamstring. Southgate, who names his 26-man squad on Thursday, also faces a difficult decision on Manchester City’s Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker.
However there is growing confidence that Southgate will take a risk on Phillips. The midfielder has been out since surgery on a shoulder injury in September but is set to feature in City’s Carabao Cup tie against Chelsea on Wednesday. Walker, who underwent groin surgery last month, is also believed to have a good chance of being picked by Southgate.
England have depended on Walker, who can play at right-back and right centre-back, for his speed. However they must adjust without James, who was favourite to start at right wing-back. The 22-year-old had been in outstanding form before his injury. He resumed jogging outside this week and was hopeful of proving his fitness to Southgate. There was no guarantee, though, of James being ready for England’s group games against Iran, Wales and the USA.
James tweeted on Wednesday: “Devastated. The minute I injured my knee, I knew the turnaround to make the World Cup would be tight, but I always felt it was possible. I’ve worked harder than I ever thought I could to give myself the best chance of going and truly believed I could help the team. I appreciate there was a risk on both sides but it was one I was willing to take. Good luck to the boys.”
Southgate is expected to adjust by using Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier at right wing-back. James’s absence is also likely to mean good news for Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, and there could also be good news for Ben White. The Arsenal centre-back has excelled at right-back for his club this season.
Defence is the big concern for England. The Manchester United centre-back Harry Maguire has started one Premier League game since August and Chilwell’s absence has limited Southgate’s options on the left. Chilwell was hopeful of competing with Luke Shaw for a spot at wing-back. Southgate could pick Tottenham’s Ryan Sessegnon or Crystal Palace’s Tyrick Mitchell, but James Justin was injured during Leicester’s win over Newport on Tuesday. Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters has also been injured. Southgate could choose to use Trippier as cover for Shaw. Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka has played at left wing-back for England.
The main decision in attack for Southgate is whether to recall Marcus Rashford, who has made a fine start to the season for Manchester United. Tammy Abraham, Ivan Toney and Callum Wilson are competing for spots as Harry Kane’s deputy up front.