Posted: 3 months ago Quote
Jude Bellingham: Has Borussia Dortmund midfielder made himself an England starter?
England's 3-0 friendly victory against Ivory Coast at Wembley was as routine as it comes, but there was still plenty for manager Gareth Southgate to ponder as the countdown to the World Cup in Qatar continues.

Southgate will discover England's group opponents at Friday's draw, then will further fine-tune his plans when they return to action against Hungary, Germany and Italy in the Nations League in June.

England delivered pretty much all Southgate would have wanted in two Wembley wins against Switzerland on Saturday and here against a disappointing Ivory Coast, but it all gets harder from now on and he has issues to consider.

Maguire boos an 'absolute joke', says England boss Southgate
Is Bellingham now a starter?
Jude Bellingham has looked perfectly at home from the moment he first walked on to the full international stage and has simply got better and better in his 12 caps and 510 minutes of action.

England fans have taken to hurling paper aeroplanes on to the Wembley turf to relieve tedium or signal a game is over as a contest, but nothing soared higher than Bellingham's outstanding performance.

From the time he exchanged passes with Ollie Watkins only to see his effort deflected against the post by Ivory Coast keeper Badra Ali Sangare, Bellingham simply oozed class and was a cut above every player on the pitch.The Borussia Dortmund midfielder moved with elegance and consummate skill, comfortable driving into the area in the number 10 role or dropping deeper to receive possession and create from there.

The dynamics of Southgate's World Cup selection policy have changed with the tournament starting in November but this system, and Bellingham's use within it, was certainly an endorsement of the faith he has in the 18-year-old who makes a nonsense of his tender years and relative lack of experience.

Southgate was at pains to avoid overhyping his young midfielder after the game, but the manager is shaping up to have an embarrassment of riches in that area of the pitch and at his current rate of progress Bellingham may be on course to state an irrefutable case to be a starter by November.

It is a pleasant dilemma for Southgate to resolve, but the notion of an England side with two such outstanding young talents as Bellingham and Declan Rice in it is a mouth-watering prospect - and then we get to the likes of Manchester City's Phil Foden, another youngster approaching world-class status.

Southgate may just be grateful for those extra few weeks to gather his thoughts on selection.

Maguire suffers Wembley jeers
Harry Maguire's desperate struggles at club level with Manchester United have been well chronicled and no-one can seriously make a case that he has been playing well this season.

It was still very uncomfortable, however, to hear many England fans jeering his name on the two occasions when it was read out before kick-off and then again for his first touches of the ball.

It was in sharp contrast to the joy heard when the names of players such as Jack Grealish and Rice were announced. It must have been very painful for the 29-year-old to hear such scorn when the ball was played back to him from the kick-off.

Southgate said it was "a complicated decision" around Maguire's selection, and even acknowledged the defender had not been feeling the full support of fans at club level.

This was, however, at England level where Maguire - for all his faults this season - has rarely let the side down and played his part in helping them reach the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and the Euro 2020 final.

He was a hero serenaded throughout those tournaments but this was a different, less flattering tune and will have been tough for Maguire to take. Such is football's fickle nature.

Southgate is loyal to players who have rewarded him and will stick with Maguire, despite the less than flattering verdict from some members of England's court of public opinion.

He made his feelings clear after the game in a show of support, describing Maguire's reception from England's fans as "an absolute joke", illustrating his decision-making process will not be swayed by dissatisfied fans.

It was a very strong reaction from Southgate but reflected how deeply he felt about the matter.

Maguire, perhaps mercifully, had little to do and will certainly need to improve his form at Manchester United to stem the flow of criticism. Questions about his selection as loyalty cannot stretch forever, but his treatment from fans here, in the early stages at least, was clearly a huge disappointment to the England manager.

Southgate's 'old guard' deliver
Southgate will be mulling over formations and personnel between now and when the Qatar World Cup begins in November, but these two friendlies have shown him that some of those he has come to count on remain reassuringly reliable.

Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford excelled against Switzerland to show why he is undisputed number one, while captain Harry Kane stands on the brink of history, scoring his 49th international goal in that 2-1 win to move to within four goals of all-time record holder Wayne Rooney.

Against Ivory Coast, it was Raheem Sterling's turn to prove he is indispensable to Southgate and England as he showed his quality.

Sterling was made captain for the night in Kane's absence and was heavily involved, despite some rough treatment by the Ivory Coast players, suffering a dead leg within the first few minutes.

He showed commendable sleight of foot to trick his way into the area to lay the first goal on a plate for Watkins and was then alert to turn home Grealish's cross for the second after his initial shot had been well saved by Ivory Coast keeper Sangare.

Other places may be up for grabs, but that trio will be central to Southgate's aspirations in Qatar.

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