Gareth Southgate is braced for the “realistic” prospect of losing more of his England stars to injury in the month before the World Cup in Qatar.
The midseason tournament means the Three Lions boss will have to wait until the weekend before to see how many of his players are fit enough to fly to the Middle East on November 15.
Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker is already doubtful after groin surgery and Southgate reckons others could be out as well.
Indeed, just hours after the England manager spoke, Trent Alexander-Arnold suffered a twisted ankle in Liverpool’s defeat by Arsenal and will have to undergo a scan to determine the severity of the problem.
“We can’t control that,” Southgate said after Sunday’s Euro 2024 qualifying draw in Frankfurt, where his team met Italy, Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta.
“I’ve said all along that I never accepted the theory that it’s better for us to play in the middle of the season than at the end because we had no problem playing at the end. I always thought that was a bit of a myth.
“What I see is a really busy schedule now, a lot of players are playing a lot of minutes and realistically we’re going to lose more. I just think it’s so intense and the players had so much football.”
Southgate, who expects to name his final squad just before the final round of Premier League games on November 13-14, admits an expanded 26-man group could allow him to do so, however, as he points to the fitness of some Players to seed with Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire ahead of Euro 2020.
“It’s just about how high their core fitness will be because we don’t have friendlies, which we had at (Euro 2020),” he added.
“Harry was six weeks away from his last game, so that’s a stretch to manage. But there are many factors in the healing of the injury and also in the sharpness of the game.”
Southgate’s contract runs until the end of Euro 2024 but he accepts performances in Qatar that will determine whether he remains in the dugout for next year’s Italy reunion and what he expects from “emotional” encounters with Ukraine.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’m aware that in football you have to get results.
“So the plan is there and the desire for continuity is there too, but I also don’t expect you to underperform and expect to stay in that post.”
Wales appear to have a good chance of qualifying for a third straight major tournament after being drawn in Group D alongside 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia, Armenia, Turkey and Latvia.
Dragons boss Rob Page said: “I think we’re pretty happy with the group.
“If you’re trying to predict which teams you’d prefer versus others, we’re not far off.”
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has long touted Euro 2024 as the tournament where he believes his team will reach their true potential, but they face a daunting task of qualifying from Group B after they were drawn next to world champions France and the Netherlands.
Greece and Gibraltar round out the group and Kenny said: “We need to achieve something extraordinary to finish in the top two. It represents a real challenge that we must try to master.
“I wanted it to be our destiny to reach Euro 2024. That was the big dream, that’s what we’re building the team on.”
Northern Ireland were placed in Group H alongside Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan and San Marino.
Boss Ian Baraclough said: “I think people will look at this group and think there might be a surprise or two.”
Scotland, who are pushing to qualify for the Euros for the second consecutive season, meet three-time champions Spain, Erling Haaland’s Norway, plus Georgia and Cyprus in Group A.
All Euro 2024 qualifiers will be played between March and November next year, with group winners and runners-up qualifying. Three more places will be determined in play-offs to be held in March 2024.