Gareth Southgate has been dealt a blow on the eve of naming his European Championship squad as Nick Pope’s knee injury is set to rule him out of the tournament.
Pope was likely to be named as Southgate’s No 2 goalkeeper on Tuesday when his 26 players for the summer are confirmed but instead he will be undergoing surgery on the problem that ruled him out of the final three matches of the season.
Southgate picked Pope, 29, in the March internationals when Jordan Pickford was injured, cementing his place as back-up when the Euros start for England on June 13 against Croatia.
While Pope struggled with his kicking in the matches against San Marino, Albania and Poland, his shot-stopping this season has seen him confirm his place as next in line after Pickford, which is a position he has held since the World Cup when he went to Russia as third-choice but overtook Jack Butland.
The final part of his season has been hit by injuries and he needed to come back from a shoulder issue before his knee complaint surfaced. Bailey Farrell-Peacock and Will Norris have seen out the season for Sean Dyche’s team, with the latter in goal against Sheffield United on Sunday.
“It’s nothing too serious, we don’t think, but it still needed doing,” said Dyche. “He was trying to get right for this game to give it a test but didn’t quite come through in training, so he and we have had to make a judgment call on that.
“It’s mainly down to him. It was awkward and sore, there’s some cartilage and he could feel a clicking in his knee. He’s had to take the decision to have the operation, it’s a tough decision, and we don’t know how long it will take to settle.
“Will he be fit for the Euros? That will be down to the surgeon. We will have to see after the surgery.”
How much of a blow is this to England?
Southgate now faces having a very inexperienced No 2 for the tournament. Dean Henderson will move up the pecking order and he has the confidence to fulfil the role after forcing his way into the reckoning at Manchester United this season.
Sam Johnstone is uncapped but has enjoyed a good season at West Bromwich Albion despite relegation from the Premier League. He would be the most obvious candidate to come in, with other options including Aaron Ramsdale and Alex McCarthy.
Uefa have given each country three extra places to cover for the issues that have arisen from Covid-19 impacting the football calendar. Southgate has stated he would rather have the traditional 23 but will name the extra three men to cover his squad for injuries.
What about Southgate’s other injury worries?
Harry Maguire is Southgate’s biggest injury concern, with the Manchester United captain all-but ruled out of Wednesday’s Europa League final against Villarreal. He has not played since damaging ankle ligaments on May 9 against Aston Villa and only came off crutches last week.
Jordan Henderson is another senior player who has missed the end of the season, following his groin injury suffered in February. He was on the bench for Liverpool’s final match of the season against Crystal Palace.
Southgate was at Villa Park on Sunday to see a number of his England players come through the final game of the season unscathed while his assistant Steve Holland watched West Ham beat Southampton.
Jack Grealish started his second Premier League game since returning from injury and was involved in the move from which Villa won their penalty in the 2-1 victory over Chelsea.
Grealish also got Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta sent-off in what proved to be the perfect warm-up for him ahead of England manager Southgate naming his squad for the European Championships on Tuesday.
Villa manager Dean Smith said: “The plan was to get him (Grealish) 90 minutes before the end of the season. I thought he tired a bit towards the end, but I wasn’t going to risk the red mist by taking him off, that’s for sure.”
Other than Grealish, Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins, who won the corner from which Villa scored their first goal, impressed in front of Southgate.
Another England player, Ben Chilwell, scored Chelsea’s goal and the left-back, together with Mason Mount and Reece James, came through the game without suffering an injury.