Football Features

Gareth Southgate’s full-back concerns deepen as versatile defender James Justin stretchered off in EFL Cup

By Ben Green

A last-minute reminder? James Justin does World Cup hopes no harm as he nets in Leicester’s EFL Cup win over Newport

Published: 22:03, 8 November 2022

It is often said that one man’s loss is another man’s gain, and James Justin would have been hoping to capitalise on England’s full-back injury concerns by sneaking a place on the plane to Qatar. That now looks unlikely.

The mental gymnastics leading up to Thursday’s England squad announcement for Gareth Southgate must have been (and continues to be) exhausting. The amount of times he’s indisputably written a name down, only to scribble them out minutes later, and then re-add them after a second wind of indecisiveness.

It’s an unenviable task, and one made all the more difficult by convalescing first-teamers enduring uncertain return dates from respective injuries. Southgate has to decide whether to take crucial stars who are major fitness concerns, or recalibrate his thinking to call up on-the-cusp players who are injury-free.

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His major problem position is in the full-back areas. Usually an area where he has a traffic jam of talent, his two major assets, Reece James and Kyle Walker, are currently recovering from respective surgeries, while Ben Chilwell has been ruled out at left back, opening the door for potential left-field alternatives.

James Justin would have been one such player who could have profited from the abject despair of others, but his night against Newport County in the EFL Cup was prematurely cut short after he left the field injured, throwing another spanner into the full-back works for Southgate.

It was a night that started with so much promise for Justin, who broke the deadlock in sumptuous style, enhancing his chances of making Southgate’s final England squad (at the time). It was an opening goal at the King Power of the highest quality. Collecting the ball out wide from Dennis Praet, Justin appeared in harmless territory, but in the blink of an eye, the full-back cut in-field, raced across the half space and uncorked a left-footed curler that rippled the net.

Southgate would have been unlikely to make a decision based on that moment alone against lower-tier opposition, but the sequence served well to underpin Justin’s ambipedal qualities, a rare and invaluable trait. A right-back by trade, the former Luton Town defender is proficient with both feet, as demonstrated by his left-footed strike against the Welsh side. He has also been cast as a left-back on numerous occasions by Brendan Rodgers.

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With injury concerns to his No. 2s and 3s, Southgate would have viewed Justin’s versatility as the perfect antidote to his positional quandary. He will now need a new multi-positional panacea.

A diagnosis is yet to be revealed, but given Justin’s ability to slot in freely across the backline, he would certainly have been in Southgate’s thoughts. Leicester fans now wait with bated breath to learn the extent of the damage.