HE has plunged the knife into an England regular on more than one occasion and is ready to do so again.

As he prepares for Euro 2024, Gareth Southgate faces a number of selection issues, regardless of whether Uefa allows him to select a 23 or 26-man squad.

Either way, it is a tournament the England manager has to win.  This is the new Golden Generation and this one must deliver.  

Southgate possesses a reputation for sticking with his favourites while refusing to pick players on form. 

Yet the dramatic elevation of Kobbie Mainoo — and Ivan Toney’s selection after his betting ban — is proof that there is recognition and reward for those who tear it up in the top flight.

In contrast, Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere, Chris Smalling and Dele Alli will testify that Southgate can be a smiling assassin with little regard for big reputations and often there is NO way back.

There is sometimes a chance of salvation. John Stones (16 months) and Kyle Walker (15 months) were both bombed out of the England squad for long periods and had to fight incredibly hard to get back into the reckoning.

Even so, Raheem Sterling looks stuffed for the Euros, even though he was England’s best player at the same tournament three years ago and has a wealth of experience with 82 caps.

And this is a warning as to why both Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish need to sort themselves out and end the seasons with a flourish.

Even with a squad of 26, there is absolutely no guarantee both players will be on that plane to Germany on Monday June 10.

Rashford has to seriously raise his game. He has scored 17 goals in 60 games for England but remains infuriatingly inconsistent and previously irked Southgate by the number of times he has pulled out of squads.

Although he suffered a poor start to the season with Manchester United, Rashford played well in the 3-1 win at Scotland in September and scored against Italy in the 3-1 triumph in October.

Since then, Rashford continued to struggle for United and let himself down with an unauthorised trip to Belfast in January which included a 12-hour Tequila bender. Southgate would have been both concerned and hugely unimpressed.

Rashford was a 75th-minute substitute in the 1-0 loss to Brazil, missed an easy header and remained on the bench for Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Belgium.

Afterwards, when quizzed about Rashford, Southgate did his trick of switching the conversation to other players. It is something he has done in the past when looking to avoid speaking about a certain individual.

Asked whether this was a missed camp for Rashford, Southgate said: “Well, I wanted to see Anthony Gordon. I think he’s been excellent for his club. And Marcus got on in the first game.

“But I wanted to see Gordon again. I thought James Maddison coming on would be able to have an impact and, of course, Jarrod Bowen has also had a really good camp.

“So there’s competition for places. And it’s a bit of a shame that Cole Palmer missed so much training that we weren’t able to put him into the game against Belgium. I wouldn’t rule Cole out of that equation, either.”

Grealish, who has not been great for Manchester City, missed the two friendlies following a groin problem. Southgate, though, spoke about the former Aston Villa hero with enthusiasm.

He said: “He’s definitely not out of the picture.

“I spoke to him before I named the squad.

“I didn’t think he was physically ready. He was back into training but I didn’t think for these games he was going to be at a physical level to be able to compete.

“But as I said when I named this squad, Gordon and Bowen are pushing those guys. And Palmer.”

If Southgate has a squad of 23, he could just pick strikers Harry Kane and Toney while knowing Jude Bellingham could also play as a No 9.

A 26-man squad would improve the chances of Rashford or Ollie Watkins.

Although Watkins was poor against Brazil, if he breaks the 30-goal barrier for Aston Villa and Rashford continues to look lost, Southgate could end up axing the United star.

Rashford was not alone in suffering a poor international window as Lewis Dunk, Conor Gallagher and Ben Chilwell did themselves no favours. Despite not being selected due to his awful form for West Ham, Southgate is still desperate for Kalvin Phillips to improve enough to be selected.

Ajax new boy Jordan Henderson, due to his experience, is still likely to be part of a squad. So, will some big names definitely miss out?

Southgate said: “Yes. But you know some of that we’ve been conscious of for a little while. One or two have come through big tests really, really strongly.

“We were thinking whether we were doing the right thing playing two big games because it made it a lot more challenging.

“But we know so much more about the players for having done that.

“And we either prepare properly for a tournament — and give it everything we’ve got to take the best level of  fixtures — or we play a weaker opponent and just try and muddle through it. A lower-risk strategy maybe. But we don’t have the players for very long. And we need to push and we need to improve as a team and expose the areas that we are short in.” — Sun.

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