Bukayo Saka warned by England boss Gareth Southgate as Harry Maguire told to quit Man Utd

Bukayo Saka has been warned that a year is a long time in football as Gareth Southgate begins the countdown to Euro 2024. It is nearly exactly 12 months until England are expected to kick off in Germany after four successive wins put them in total control of Group C of the qualifying process with half their games gone.

The 7-0 win against North Macedonia at Old Trafford was inspired by hat-trick hero Saka but all 11 players were on their game in a mouth-watering exhibition of the sort of unconstrained football England might at last be able to produce as a major finals.

Swap in the injured Jude Bellingham for Jordan Henderson and let Reece James battle it out with Kyle Walker for the right-back spot, and providing Harry Maguire is playing regular football somewhere, Southgate could have his first-choice eleven.

However, in the England manager’s mind not even Saka - England’s player of the season - can count on his place. “He’s an outstanding talent, he’s totally reliable without the ball, he’s humble,” Southgate said. “So everything is there.

“But I’ve been in football a long time. You can’t just say that. We’ve got to keep other people feeling important within the squad.

“I think we’d be foolish to give anybody that status, that feel, that half a per cent which might cause them to take a step back. Football doesn’t work like that. We’ve got to keep pushing.”

Certainly Southgate hopes there will be plenty on the periphery to do some of that pushing for him. Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and James Maddison have seen themselves slip down the pecking order and further afield, Southgate suspects that Raheem Sterling may still feel he has a claim on a starting place up front.

“He’s a fighter,” Southgate said. “What we know is he’s scored an incredible amount of goals for us, important goals. He’s not been happy with this season at his club this year, the part he has to get right this summer is his physical fitness and I would expect him to be flying next year.”

The message to Maguire and the rest of the team is to just make sure you get a regular game anywhere. “We have got a few players with a lot going on, really,” he said.

“They have managed to park that brilliantly during their period with us. But there are potentially quite a few moves this summer that would be hugely important for their own careers and for us.”

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s transition into midfield throws up a more tickling battle - between Southgate’s wishes for the 25-year-old and those of his club manager. “Not really! No, not really!” Southgate replied with a nervous grin when asked if he was likely to discuss it with Jurgen Klopp.

“He’s an exceptional player for Liverpool in whatever position he plays,” Southgate added. “The most pleasing thing for me is that he has probably had his most enjoyable England camp ever.

“He’s desperate to be a part of the team, he has shown everybody what he can do in that role. I had no hesitation he was going to play against North Macedonia and would have no hesitation against the next level of team.”

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