Jadon Sancho and Tammy Abraham are back available for England after a coronavirus breach that left manager Gareth Southgate once again navigating a “very difficult moral maze”.
Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden are absent from the Three Lions’ international triple header as punishment for breaching the strict ‘bio bubble’ during last month’s Nations League trip to Iceland.
Southgate has had another Covid-19 headache to contend with this time after footage emerged of Sancho, Abraham and Ben Chilwell breaking the Government’s ‘rule of six’ guidelines at a party last weekend.
The trio missed Thursday’s 3-0 thrashing of Wales as a result, but Sancho and Abraham are available for Sunday’s Nations League clash against star-studded Belgium.
Chilwell remains absent through illness and will be tested to see if he can face Denmark on Wednesday, with Southgate keen to move on from an issue that has led to scrutiny over his handling of such incidents.
“It’s a very difficult moral maze and you’re having to make decisions that are impossible really on how you treat all these different incidents that we’ve had to deal with over the last few months,” the England manager said.
“Where we have been fairly consistent is that the lockdown breaches that have happened away from our camp, players have been selected.
“There were some breaches in the summer – we’re not condoning, we’re not encouraging that, we recognise the responsibilities – but we were consistent in that thinking.
“These lads have missed one match already. They’ve missed a chunk of the training, so other players have gone into the team and done well, so they’ve found themselves in a more complicated situation because of that.
“I don’t think it’s comparable to what happened last month because that’s a completely different set of circumstances in my view.
“But I can’t sit here and say I have got all of these things right. It’s impossible. What is right?
“Everybody is going to have a view on that, so I have to make decisions that I feel are right for the culture of the team, first and foremost.
“There’s additional scrutiny because we’re the national team and judged differently to any club decision, but at this point I am not going to lose sleep over that.
“We’ll try to do the right thing, we’ll try to have as much consistency as we can.
“But also I’m not standing on my moral high horse saying, ‘We’re the guardians of everything that’s great and we are beyond criticism or reproach’.
“We recognise for the whole country this is a difficult period.”
Experienced defender Kyle Walker flouted coronavirus regulations during lockdown, while Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was hauled over the coals for breaching rules.
The 25-year-old has since gone on to break into the England squad and flourished on his first start, winning the man-of-the-match award for his display in the friendly thrashing of Wales.
Southgate is not buying into the comparisons to Paul Gascoigne other than their shared ability to beat players, with the Three Lions boss facing a clamour for Grealish to start on Sunday.
“We’ve got six matches over the autumn and the physical condition of those players across those matches is really important,” he said.
“It’s not just tactical about how we prepare the team this week, but physical across the whole squad and we have some great options for how we approach the game and the way to play.
“I’m in a fortunate position that we’ve got decisions to make on who starts and even, given the size of the squad, who we have on the bench. That’s not so straightforward, but it’s a good position to be in.”
England are expected to name a much more experienced side on Sunday, with Harry Maguire in line to win his first cap in nearly 11 months.
The Manchester United captain missed the last international get-together following court case in Greece and has struggled for form at club level this season.
“We’re delighted to have him back with us – he’s an absolute top player,” said Southgate, who says Maguire’s United team-mate Luke Shaw is “more than capable of being the best left-back in the country” despite his continued absence from the England set-up.
“There’s obviously a lot changed in his life, a lot that he’s gone through over the last couple of months.
“A different level of scrutiny on his performance because he’s the captain of Manchester United, but he’s absolutely outstanding as far as we’re concerned.
“He’s been pivotal to every good performance that we’ve had over the last few years and the success of the team, a lot of that has resided on having his stability and ability to bring the ball out from the back.
“We couldn’t have more faith and belief in what is possible for him. He’s a big, big player for us.”