Kyle Walker has undergone groin surgery, leaving the Manchester City defender facing World Cup heartbreak. The 32-year-old suffered the injury in Sunday’s 6-3 home win over Manchester United and if it is a blow for his club it stands to be an even bigger one for Gareth Southgate and England.
Southgate will name his 26-man squad for the finals in Qatar on 10 November, although the final Fifa deadline is 14 November, meaning he would have scope for late adjustments if problems were to arise in the Premier League games on 12-13 November – the last weekend before the domestic season pauses. England kick off in Qatar against Iran on 21 November.
It leaves Walker – who has 70 caps – with a little over five weeks to recover his fitness, with the chances of that happening rated as slim. Walker, though, refuses to give up hope.
Southgate has said he knows he will lose players before he finalises his squad – it is inevitable given the crowded nature of the schedule before an unprecedented winter World Cup. But he would not have wanted one of the absentees to be Walker, who he counts on as the right-sided defender in his back three and can also play at right wing-back or right-back in a four.
Walker’s pace is vital, especially to cover Harry Maguire – who Southgate continues to trust on the left of the three, despite his struggles for form. John Stones would be the prime candidate to move to the right of the three from the middle, with Eric Dier in the frame to start in the centre.
Stones, also of City, has had his own injury problems and he limped out of England’s 3-3 draw against Germany last week with a hamstring injury. He has not featured since for City.
Southgate’s other options in central defence are Conor Coady, Marc Guéhi, Fikayo Tomori and, possibly, Ben White. His full-back options on the right are – in order of preference – Reece James, Kieran Trippier and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
City confirmed the surgery to Walker’s left leg and that it had been “successful and a more detailed prognosis will be provided in due course”.
Pep Guardiola’s options to replace Walker at right-back include João Cancelo, who can switch from left-back, and Stones.
Walker tweeted: “My operation on Tuesday was a success and now I can concentrate on my rehab and getting back to full fitness. I will be supporting my teammates every day in any way I can.”