Harry Maguire handed England a boost on the eve of the European Championship as he returned to full training on Thursday to raise hopes of playing a part in the final group-stage fixture against the Czech Republic.
The England centre-back’s recovery from ankle ligament damage will keep him out of Sunday’s tournament opener against Croatia and almost certainly next Friday’s encounter with Scotland, but being part of a team session at St George’s Park has increased the possibility of facing the Czech Republic on June 22.
Maguire has been cautious about his return to action and is not risking a setback by rushing back. After working outside, away from the group, stepping up his rehabilitation has given Gareth Southgate a huge lift on the eve of the tournament.
Southgate has been looking at different combinations in his defence to cover for the loss of his senior centre-back. In training he again assessed three and four-men defences as he considers his most effective backline for Sunday.
Maguire suffered his injury when Aston Villa forward Anwar El Ghazi fell on him during a match one month ago, with ligament damage ruling him out for the rest of the season. He was named on a 12-substitute bench for the Europa League final. He warmed up with the team in Gdansk but was never expected to be used in the defeat to Villarreal.
“We all know how much of a key player he is in the squad and you can see how much of a big influence he was when he didn’t play in the Europa League final,” said England team-mate Reece James. “It was great to see him back on the training field and hopefully he is back soon.”
During England’s friendlies, Southgate has been cautious about putting a timescale on Maguire’s comeback and stated it would be a “bonus” to have the 28-year-old playing, with the squad picked to cover for him.
John Stones appears to be the only guaranteed starter for the weekend, with Southgate’s other options including Conor Coady, Ben White or moving Luke Shaw inside from left-back. Southgate used Kyle Walker as a centre-back at the last World Cup and James is also prepared to play there.
“I played right-sided centre-back many times coming through in the academy so the position wasn’t new to me,” James said. “It is very different to wing-back and you can’t go forward, you are limited to what you can do and where you can go.”