LONDON • Gareth Southgate's hopes of testing his strongest team against the top two sides in the world have been dashed after England's preparations for the friendlies with Germany and Brazil were disrupted by the withdrawal of three more senior players.
The uncapped Jack Cork of Burnley was called up on Tuesday night after Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Fabian Delph all pulled out of the squad for the two matches at Wembley, with that trio all now undergoing treatment at their clubs for minor injuries.
Southgate had already seen the Tottenham trio of Dele Alli, Harry Winks and Harry Kane, pull out of the original 25-man party.
Four of those six injured players might realistically have expected to start, while Liverpool's Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne, and Danny Welbeck of Arsenal are also unavailable. Southgate's options are now severely limited as he seeks to try out the 3-4-3 formation he envisages using at the World Cup finals. The manager will have only two more friendlies, against the Netherlands in Amsterdam and Italy at Wembley next March, before he names a provisional squad for the tournament in Russia.
His 22-man party now includes five uncapped players, with the loss of so many key personnel, all from top clubs competing in the Champions League this term, a considerable blow.
Cork, now 28 but a former under-21 international, has been ever present in Burnley's fine start to the season since his £10 million (S$18 million) arrival from Swansea. Yet the complexion of the squad is now radically different to that originally selected by Southgate, calling into question just how much he can learn from the two glamour fixtures.
Southgate was brutally honest last week in explaining why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge and Chris Smalling had been omitted from his original squad, pointing to a lack of playing time at club level for the first two and the perception that Smalling is not able to "use the ball from the back" to the same level as John Stones, Eric Dier and Harry Maguire.
Oxlade-Chamberlain's Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp called on the media not to get carried away with England's showings in their forthcoming friendlies.
The hope is that England play with renewed vigour against the current World Cup holders and the five-time winners of the competition and, in the process, lay down a marker for the finals in Russia.
But Klopp has called for caution.
"If you want to play a friendly you should choose another team than Germany. And Brazil is the second one, that's really funny," said the German. "All the journalists need to cool down and don't expect too much. It's not that they cannot win, of course, but you make it too big if they win, too big if they lose."
Klopp felt a far better gauge of England's prospects is the success they have enjoyed at youth level, with the under-17s' recent World Cup triumph following the under-19s winning the European Championship and the under-20s also being crowned world champions.
"The sign for the future is the Under-17 and the Under-20 World Cup successes," Klopp said. "We have to make sure they are coming through."
England's FA will trial the video assistant referee (VAR) system for the first time in an official game in the United Kingdom during the match against Germany, The Times of London reported.
Matches between England and Germany have seen several controversial decisions in the past, including Frank Lampard's disallowed goal in the 2010 World Cup and Geoff Hurst's goal in the 1966 World Cup final.
VAR involves assistant referees watching the action remotely and then drawing the match referee's attention to officiating mistakes or missed serious incidents and was previously tested during the Wembley Cup charity match last month.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS