Kyle Walker has undergone groin surgery, leaving the Manchester City defender facing World Cup grief. The 32-year-old was injured on Sunday 6-3 home win over Manchester United and if this is a blow for his club, it could be an even bigger one for Gareth Southgate and England.
Southgate will name his 26-man squad for the finals in Qatar on November 10, although FIFA’s latest deadline is November 14, meaning he will have room for late adjustments if problems arise in the Premier League games on November 12-13 – the last weekend before the break of the domestic season. England kicks off in Qatar against Iran on November 21.
That leaves Walker – who has 70 caps – just over five weeks to regain his fitness and the chances of that happening are thought to be slim. However, Walker refuses to lose hope.
Southgate said he knows losing players before forming his squad is inevitable given the packed schedule ahead of an unprecedented winter World Cup. But he wouldn’t want Walker, who he relies on as a right-back in his back-three, who can also play at right-back or right-back in a four, to be one of the absentees.
Walker’s pace is vital, especially to cover Harry Maguire – who Southgate continues to trust on the left of three despite his struggles for form. John Stones would be the prime candidate to move to the right of the center three, with Eric Dier in the frame to start in the centre.
Stones, also from City, has had injury problems and limped out of England Draw 3-3 against Germany on Monday of last week with a hamstring problem. He hasn’t featured for City since.
Southgate’s other options in central defense are Conor Coady, Mark Gei, Fikayo Tomori and possibly Ben White. His right-back options are, in order of preference, Rhys James, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
City confirmed the operation on Walker’s left leg, adding in a statement that it had been “successful and a more detailed prognosis will be given in due course”.
Pep Guardiola’s options to replace Walker in his usual right-back position at City include Joao Cancela, who could switch from left-back, and Stones.
Walker tweeted: “My surgery on Tuesday went well and I can now focus on my rehabilitation and return to full fitness. I will support my teammates every day as much as I can.”