Gareth Southgate has consistently stressed the need to keep his squad fresh
Gareth Southgate faces a selection dilemma for England’s European Championship quarter-final against Ukraine, with four players being one yellow card away from a one-match ban.
Central defender Harry Maguire and midfielders Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Phil Foden are all one booking away from being suspended for the semi-finals should England beat Ukraine on Saturday night in Rome.
Uefa rules state that players are suspended after receiving two yellow cards in the tournament, up until the semi-finals when single yellow cards expire.
It means that a player who has received a yellow card earlier in the tournament can be booked in the semi-finals and still play in the final – but anybody already on a caution who is booked on Saturday would miss the next round.
That leaves England manager Southgate to decide whether to risk his players already on bookings missing the semi-finals or whether or not to save any of them for the last-four stage, when another yellow card would not rule them out of a final appearance.
Mason Mount is already hoping to win back a place in Southgate’s line-up after returning to full training following his period of isolation, while the threat of losing both Rice and Phillips could open the door to Jordan Henderson, who made a late substitutes’ appearance in the victory over Germany.
Maguire has been a key figure after returning to the team for the last two games against Czech Republic and Germany, and Southgate will certainly want him available for the last four.
Tyrone Mings performed well in England’s first two group games, while Maguire was still recovering from injury and is equally happy on the left side of a back three or partnering John Stones in a back four, as he did against Croatia and Scotland.
Euros – Road to the final
The option of starting Maguire with a plan to replace him with Mings is one Southgate will no doubt study and how well the Manchester United captain recovers from Tuesday night’s game will also affect his decision.
Having reverted to a back five for the Germany clash, Southgate could return to a back four for the Ukraine game, which England will aim to dominate possession in.
Southgate has already altered his plans once during this tournament, when Foden was left out of the game against Czech Republic because he was on a yellow card and Mount was unavailable after having to isolate with his Chelsea team-mate Ben Chilwell.
Kieran Trippier will need to be assessed this week, as he was managing a tight hamstring before the Germany game and required treatment in the second-half of the last-16 victory.
The prospect of possibly needing to change a winning team and formation will not worry Southgate, who has now gone 34 games without naming the same England side.
It is the longest run of consecutive changes since a sequence of 56 games between 1990 and 1996, and Southgate has consistently stressed the need to keep his squad fresh and offer opportunities to as many players as possible.
Southgate, though, also acknowledged the risk attached to his tinkering after the Germany game, when he said: “You know that if you change the shape and pick certain personnel instead of others and it goes wrong, you are dead.”
England are not the only team with players facing potential suspension. Should they beat Ukraine, then Southgate’s men will face either Czech Republic or Denmark in the semi-finals.
The Czechs have West Ham United defender Vladimir Coufal, Adam Hlozek and Lukas Masopust on yellow cards, while the Danes could lose Mikkel Damsgaard, Thomas Delaney, Mathias Jensen and Daniel Wass if any of them are booked in the last eight.