Harry Maguire has been dropped by Manchester United despite being its club captain and the most expensive defender in soccer history.
The big question now: How will that affect his place in England's team ahead of the World Cup?
England coach Gareth Southgate has previously said he finds it difficult to select players in his squad if they aren't featuring for their clubs. And Maguire only has to look at some of his teammates at United — Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Luke Shaw — to see Southgate often has been true to his word.
Maguire could prove to be a different case.
First, Maguire might now be behind Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane in the pecking order of center backs at United but he will still get minutes — perhaps most weeks in the lead-up to the World Cup — because of the team's involvement in the Europa League, when manager Erik ten Hag will likely rotate. That gives Maguire at least six matches, injury-permitting, if not more should Martinez and Varane have any fitness issues themselves.
Then there's Southgate's options at center back, which aren't plentiful.
There's John Stones, who isn't exactly a guaranteed starter at Manchester City given the Premier League champions now have five central defenders in their squad. Conor Coady recently left Wolverhampton, where he had lost his place, to join struggling Everton, and Tyrone Mings was dropped by Aston Villa at the start of the season only to recently regain his place because of injuries.
Crystal Palace's Marc Guehi and AC Milan's Fikayo Tomori have been in and out of England's squads over the past year but neither is currently a player Southgate can rely on.
Maguire, then, might be safe for the time being, especially since he's been a regular under Southgate during the coach's England tenure. After all, it was only 14 months ago that Maguire was selected in the team of the tournament for the European Championship by UEFA's technical observers.
His stock at United has plummeted since then, though, with his last start seeing him look beleaguered in the team's 4-0 loss at Brentford that sparked a crisis at England's biggest club. Ten Hag has partnered Varane and Martinez in every game since and United won four in a row, conceding only one goal.
Maguire, who left Leicester for United for 80 million pounds (then $97 million) — a world-record fee for defender — in 2019, was on the bench again in the 3-1 win over Arsenal on Sunday and came on in the 80th minute as a replacement for Martinez. Almost immediately, Maguire collected a yellow card for a clumsy foul, and looked shaky throughout his brief time on the field.
Central defense is suddenly a huge concern for Southgate 10 weeks ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.
Still, expect Maguire's name to be there when the next England squad is named for Nations League matches against Italy and Germany at the end of the month.
Leaving Barcelona might have been just what Martin Braithwaite needed to boost his chances of securing a spot in Denmark's World Cup squad.
The forward signed with Espanyol after being among the players Barcelona let go to make more salary cap room for its new signings.
He debuted with his new club Sunday and scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league. It was Espanyol’s first victory of the season, and Braithwaite’s first goal in more than a year — since a league game in August 2021.
The 31-year-old forward had appeared in only four matches with the Catalan club since then, the last in March.
JEERS FOR ALVES
After ending his second spell at Barcelona in the offseason, Dani Alves was asked by Brazil coach Tite to join a team where he could play plenty of minutes ahead of the World Cup.
Well, he's getting game-time at Pumas in Mexico — but things aren't exactly going to plan.
The team is next to last in the standings after 12 games and the 39-year-old Alves recently has been jeered by fans for his performance on the field. Alves has yet to win any of the eight games he has played with Pumas, which is trying to win their first league title in 11 years.
“The jeers don´t seem normal or appropriate, we know where they are coming from,” said Pumas coach Andres Lillini, who has used Alves in three different positions in midfield as well as at right back.
Alves was a regular for Brazil in World Cup qualifying and also won the gold medal at last year's Tokyo Olympics.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports