By STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Journalist

Harry Maguire was dropped by Manchester United when he was club captain and the most expensive defender in football history.

The big question now: how will this affect his place in the England squad ahead of the World Cup?

England manager Gareth Southgate has previously said he struggles to select players for his squad if they don’t feature at their clubs. And Maguire need only look at some of his United team-mates – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Luke Shaw – to see Southgate have often been true to their word.

Maguire might turn out to be a different case.

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Firstly, Maguire could now be behind Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane in the pecking order of centre-backs at United, but he will still get minutes – possibly most of the weeks before the World Cup – due to the involvement of the team in the Europa League. , when manager Erik ten Hag is likely to be on rotation. That gives Maguire at least six matches, injuries permitting, if not more if Martinez and Varane have fitness issues themselves.

Then there are Southgate’s options at center back, of which there aren’t many.

There’s John Stones, who isn’t exactly a guaranteed starter at Manchester City given the Premier League champions now have five centre-backs in their squad. Conor Coady recently left Wolverhampton, where he had lost his place, to join struggling Everton, and Tyrone Mings was let go by Aston Villa at the start of the season only to regain his place recently through injury.

Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi and AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori have been in and out of England squads over the past year but neither is currently a player Southgate can rely on.

Maguire could therefore be safe for now, especially as he has been a regular at Southgate during the coach’s tenure in England. After all, only 14 months ago Maguire was selected in the European Championship Team of the Tournament by UEFA technical observers.

His United stock has since dropped, however, with his latest start seeing him look beleaguered in the team’s 4-0 defeat at Brentford which sparked a crisis at England’s biggest club. Ten Hag has partnered with Varane and Martinez in every game since and United have won four in a row, conceding just one goal.

Maguire, who left Leicester for United for £80m (then $97m) – a world record fee for the defender – in 2019, was on the bench again in Sunday’s 3-1 win over Arsenal and came on in the 80th minute. replacing Martinez. Almost immediately, Maguire was shown a yellow card for a clumsy foul and appeared shaky throughout his brief spell on the pitch.

Central defense is suddenly a huge concern for Southgate 10 weeks out from the World Cup in Qatar.

Nonetheless, expect Maguire’s name to be there when England’s next squad are named for the Nations League fixtures against Italy and Germany at the end of the month.

Leaving Barcelona could have been exactly what Martin Braithwaite needed to boost his chances of securing a place in Denmark’s World Cup squad.

The striker signed with Espanyol after being among the players Barcelona let go to make more room in the salary cap for their new signings.

He made his debut for his new club on Sunday and scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league. It was Espanyol’s first win of the season and Braithwaite’s first goal in over a year – since a league game in August 2021.

The 31-year-old striker had made just four appearances for the Catalan club since then, the last one in March.

After completing his second spell at Barcelona in the offseason, Dani Alves was invited by Brazilian coach Tite to join a team where he could play minutes before the World Cup.

Well, he’s getting some game time at Pumas in Mexico – but things don’t quite go to plan.

The team are second to last in the standings after 12 games and Alves, 39, was recently mocked by fans for his performance on the pitch. Alves is yet to win any of the eight games he has played for the Pumas, who are bidding for their first league title in 11 years.

“The teasing doesn’t seem normal or appropriate, we know where it comes 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 gold at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

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