Jadon Sancho and Tammy Abraham returned to England after the coronavirus breach that left coach Gareth Southgate plunging once more into a “very difficult moral labyrinth”.
Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden missed the Three Lions header as punishment for breaching a strict “vital bubble” during last month’s Nations League trip to Iceland.
Southgate has had yet another Covid-19 headache to contend with this time after footage of Sancho, Abraham and Ben Chilwell breaching the government’s guidelines for a “ rule of six ” emerged at last weekend’s party.
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The trio missed Wales’ 3-0 win on Thursday, but Sancho and Abraham are ready to face Belgium on Sunday in the Nations League.
Chilwell remains absent due to illness and will be tested to see if he can take on Denmark on Wednesday, with Southgate keen to get past the issue that led to scrutiny of his handling of such incidents.
“It’s a very difficult moral labyrinth and you have to make really impossible decisions about how you handle all these different incidents that we have had to deal with over the past few months,” said the England coach.
“Where we were fairly consistent is that the lockdown violations that occurred far from our camp, the players were chosen.
“There were some violations in the summer – we are not condoning, we are not encouraging that, we are aware of the responsibilities – but we were consistent in that thinking.
“These players have missed one game already. They missed a large part of the training, so other players joined the team and performed well, so they found themselves in a more complicated situation because of that.
“I don’t think it can be compared to what happened last month because this is a completely different set of circumstances in my view.
“But I can’t sit here and say I got all these things right. It’s impossible. What’s right?
“Everyone will have a point of view about it, so I have to make decisions that I feel are right for the team culture, first and foremost.
“There is extra scrutiny because we are the national team and we are judged differently from any club decision, but at this point I will not lose sleep about that.
We’ll try to do the right thing, and we’ll try to get as consistency as possible.
But I also do not stand on my high moral horse and say, ‘We are the custodians of all great things and we are above criticism or blame.’
“We realize that this is a difficult period for the whole country.”
Veteran defender Kyle Walker violated coronavirus regulations during the lockdown, while Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was pulled over on coals for breaking the rules.
Since then, the 25-year-old has continued to storm the England squad and thrived in his debut, winning the MVP award in his match in a friendly against Wales.
Southgate disagrees with comparisons to Paul Gascoigne other than their shared ability to overpower the players, as the Three Lions coach faces a fuss over Greelish to start Sunday.
“We have six matches during the fall, and the physical condition of these players in those matches is really important,” he said.
“It’s not just tactical about how we prepared the team this week, but physically throughout the team and we have some great options for how we handle the match and the way we play.
“I’m in a lucky position to have decisions to make about who starts and until, given the size of the team, who we have on the bench. It’s not very clear, but it’s a good place to be in.”
England are expected to pick a more experienced team on Sunday, with Harry Maguire winning their first international match in nearly 11 months.
The Manchester United captain missed his last international encounter after a case in Greece and has struggled for a club level this season.
“We’re delighted he’s back with us – he’s an excellent player ever,” said Southgate, who said fellow McGuire at United Luke Shaw “is more than capable of being the best left-back in the country”. Absence from the England squad.
“There are clearly a lot of changes in his life, a lot that he has gone through over the past two months.
“A different level of scrutiny in his performance as he is the captain of Manchester United, but he is absolutely amazing for us.
“He has been central to every good performance we’ve had over the past few years and the team’s success, a lot of that has depended on his persistence and his ability to get the ball out of the back.
“We didn’t have more faith and belief in what was possible for him. He is a big and big player for us.”