England manager Gareth Southgate would have no hesitation unleashing teenagers Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi against the Czech Republic.
There is a chance for one of the 18-year-old wingers to start at Wembley after Marcus Rashford, due to an ankle injury, became the sixth player to withdraw from Southgate’s squad.
The inaugural Nations League finals are looming large this summer, but first comes a key Euro 2020 qualification double-header that the Three Lions approach without a string of first-team players.
John Stones, Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Luke Shaw all pulled out of the squad at the start of the week, with Trent Alexander-Arnold following suit on Wednesday due to a back injury.
In-form Manchester United forward Rashford’s withdrawal has now compounded those problems, with an ankle injury seeing him exit from the squad on the eve of the Czech Republic clash.
“Well, he’s been with our medical team all week,” Southgate said.
“We’ve tried to progress his training through the week, so he did some running with them but it’s clear to us that he’s not ready for our matches.
“We’re going to send him back to the club and he’s out of the two games.”
The absentees leave England looking light, with Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse and highly-rated Chelsea teenager Hudson-Odoi the only fresh faces brought into a squad that has dropped from 25 player to 21.
“We knew from a couple of days ago that Marcus wouldn’t be ready for tomorrow, so it’s a great opportunity for the others because they’ve been exceptional in training – they look like they’ve been with us forever,” Southgate said.
“So, we’re really excited. I think we’ve lost a lot of players but it’s an opportunity for others, and when you look at the level of training and the way the team has prepared, they’ve been excellent, so we’re really looking forward to seeing the team play.”
Sancho has won three caps and is pushing for his first competitive start, while fellow Under-17 World Cup winner Hudson-Odoi is in line for his England debut despite having yet to make a league start.
It looks a straight shootout between the pair to start, with Sancho surely ahead of fellow 18-year-old Hudson-Odoi.
“It’s difficult to say really because throughout the age groups, they’ve been very similar in their development,” Southgate said.
“Jadon has obviously had more big match experience at this point and, he has been with us, as the senior team, for a bit longer.
“But Callum has fitted in brilliantly and I won’t hesitate to start either of them in the game, they’re ready, they can play no problem for us.”
Southgate says Hudson-Odoi has looked “every inch an England international” during training for a match that under-fire goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was confirmed as starting.
Declan Rice is pushing for his debut after switching allegiance from the Republic of Ireland, although there is the unwanted backdrop of old social media posts he made as a teenager which appear to support the IRA.
Injuries mean there are sure to be at least four changes to England’s memorable comeback win against Croatia in the Nations League 124 days ago, but Southgate is confident in the tools at his disposal.
“I don’t think it’s a case of experimenting,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to make changes from our last matches, but we’ve had to do that every time we get together.
“The team is in a different place, different people are available. When I’ve looked back over the two years (and seen) who has scored important goals or made important contributions at different times, the squad has had to evolve.
“Part of that has been looking at bringing younger players in, but part of that has been that we’ve always had four, five or six players missing, and you just have to adapt and adjust.
“So, yes, there will be people who haven’t played as often for us, but all of them are ready to play for England.”
The international break is upon us and for those already pining for club football, there is at least the opportunity to see some of the most sought after young talents take the field in their national team’s colours.
International friendlies and qualifiers for the Euro 2020 are now underway. While the Europe is kept busy with the qualifiers, the South Americans find themselves rehearsing for the Copa 2019.
We take a look at some of the youngsters who could make an impact with their national teams after a promising season at club level.
Jadon Sancho (England)
Jadon Sancho has arguably been the best teenager to make a name for himself in the top five leagues this season. The Englishman has played a key role in providing Borussia Dortmund with a shot at the Bundesliga title.
The 18-year-old has garnered 12 assists in the league so far this season. No player in the top five leagues has bettered this. In Sancho, England have a versatile winger who can take on opponents with ease, create chances and deliver quality cross.
He is yet to start a competitive game for England, but has made two appearances off the bench in the Nations League last year.
Oddly, part of the above description can also be used to describe yet another youngster who will be donning the jersey of the Three Lions – Callum Hudson-Odoi. Clearly, England’s matches are a must-watch during the break.
They will be taking on Czech Republic (March 22) and Montenegro (March 25) before breaking off for club football.
Diego Lainez (Mexico)
On Sunday, Diego Lainez set up Loren Moron and earned an assist against Barcelona. On Thursday, he will take the field for Mexico in a friendly against Chile.
The 18-year-old was signed by Real Betis in the winter transfer window after he impressed at his former club, Club America.
Despite being a teenager, the diminutive midfielder has shown great maturity and warrants all the hype surrounding him.
A winger who can also function as a number 10, Lainez uses his quick burst of pace to get past defenders.
Keep an eye out for the 18-year-old as Mexico take on Chile (March 21) and Paraguay (March 25) in friendlies.
Kai Havertz (Germany)
The Germans have clearly not recovered from the World Cup 2018 trauma yet. Relegation in the UEFA Nations League and a draw against Serbia in a friendly is evidence.
If youth and talent is what Joachim Low is looking for in his new wave Germany squad, Kai Havertz should be a crucial addition.
The 19-year-old is yet to feature in a competitive game for country and could make his debut against the Netherlands in the Euro 2020 qualifiers on March 24.
The technically gifted midfielder is seen as Mesut Ozil’s replacement in the national team, given he shares the same qualities and has the potential to become one of the best number 10s in the world.
Joao Felix (Portugal)
While Manchester United are still in search of the “next Cristiano Ronaldo,” Portugal could be close to finding someone who could replicate his attacking prowess.
A central attacking midfielder by trade, 19-year-old Joao Felix is capable of playing on the wing or as a striker.
The Benfica forward has scored 10 goals in 18 league appearances this season, justifying all the hype around him, including rumours that United are after him.
Catch the youngster in action as Portugal take on Ukraine (March 22) and Serbia (March 25) in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Donny Van de Beek (Netherlands)
Three weeks after eliminating Real Madrid from the Champions League, Van de Beek will don the Dutch colours as he attempts to help his team past the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
The Dutch are yet to qualify for a major tournament after the heartbreak in the 2014 World Cup. Having failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018, the pressure on Ronald Koeman to achieve qualification is high.
Van de Beek could play a crucial role as Netherlands aim to achieve European dominance. The midfielder loves to have the ball at his feet and dictate the tempo of the play. With Frenkie de Jong tucking into defence, Van de Beek will be more progressive with his game.
The 21-year-old is just another youngster in the massive pool of talent that the Dutch national team has.
Watch the midfielder in action as Netherlands take on Germany in the qualifiers on March 24.
Marcus Rashford has been ruled out of England’s Euro 2020 qualification double-header after failing to shake off an ankle injury, manager Gareth Southgate has said.
The Three Lions’ preparations for Friday’s Group A opener against the Czech Republic at a sold-out Wembley have been hampered somewhat by a string of injuries.
John Stones, Fabian Delph, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Luke Shaw and Trent Alexander-Arnold have dropped out of the squad this week, offset only by the additions of Callum Hudson-Odoi and James Ward-Prowse.
Southgate’s initial 25-man selection is now down to 21 players after striker Rashford returned to Manchester United on the eve of the Czech Republic clash.
The 21-year-old had an individual session indoors away from the main training group at St George’s Park on Thursday and Southgate has now confirmed that an ankle issue has seen him withdraw.