Injury expected to rule James Maddison out of England’s opening game in Qatar | England

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James Maddison is expected to miss England’s opening game at the World Cup with a slight knee problem that kept him out of training again yesterday. The Leicester midfielder, a surprise inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s squad, has been struggling since limping off during his side’s victory over West Ham last weekend. Maddison has not trained properly since Wednesday and is unlikely to be involved when England face Iran in Group B on Monday.

The 25-year-old’s potential absence is a blow for England. Maddison was never likely to start at the Khalifa International Stadium but he would be a useful option off the bench. The injury is not believed to be serious and there is confidence that he will be available when England face Wales and the USA.

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The likely absence of Maddison will enhance the prospects of Conor Gallagher featuring in some role and the midfielder is confident his energetic style will give him a chance of making a positive impact in the Qatari heat. Gallagher was not called up for England’s Nations League games in September and did not expect to be on the plane after struggling to nail down a regular starting role at Chelsea. The 22-year-old had taken the bold decision to return to his boyhood club after impressing on loan at Crystal Palace last season and it seemed his international hopes were under threat when he was sent off for two bookings during the first half of Chelsea’s win over Leicester in August.

There was a feeling that Gallagher, who has started eight games this season, would have been better served by returning to Palace. Eyebrows were raised when the Chelsea academy graduate edged Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse out of Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad for Qatar.

“To be honest, I didn’t expect it,” Gallagher said. “I was a little bit surprised., “I’ve not played consistent football with Chelsea and as a team Chelsea have not played great this season – we’ve definitely got a lot to improve and I am sure we will.

But I am very grateful and honoured that the England manager has belief in me and saw what I can do when I’ve played for Chelsea this season and, obviously, last season as well. It’s football. The road is never just going to go up. There’s always bumps in the road. It’s just about keeping believing in myself.”

Conor Gallagher trains with England
Conor Gallagher (centre) is aiming to bring energy to England at the World Cup. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Southgate has explained that Gallagher, who has four caps, can give England something different. He offers a goalscoring threat from midfield and could be a useful option off the bench when England play Iran. The stadiums are air-conditioned but kicking off at 4pm could still be challenging for Southgate’s players.

“I feel like I can bring energy going forward and defensively as well,” Gallagher said. “In whatever position the manager players me, I will do my best to be as effective as I can on the pitch. Whether that’s to score goals or try to win the ball back then that’s what I can do.”

England ramped up their preparations by training again in scorching conditions on Friday. They took to the field at their Al-Wakrah Sports Club base at 12.30pm local time for the second consecutive day, with the temperature at 33C.

“It’s a big difference from the cold, wet weather at home but I feel that we have adapted well,” Gallagher said. “When that first game comes we will be raring to go, no matter what the temperatures are.”

Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea’s former head coach, has previously compared Gallagher to N’Golo Kanté. “When he said it, it did make me laugh and surprise me a little bit,” Gallagher said. “It’s obviously a massive compliment, even if I’m half the player Kanté is because I feel like he’s the best midfielder in the world. We are obviously different players. He probably gets around a bit more than me. He’s a bit sharper than me.”

Despite the modesty it is clear that Southgate values Gallagher. The 22-year-old has done well when given opportunities by Graham Potter, who replaced Tuchel in September. He scored his first goal for Chelsea in October and impressed Southgate by accepting a call-up to the Under-21s when not involved in England’s Nations League camp. “If I didn’t do my job properly and go and play with the 21s then I probably would not be here now,” Gallagher said.

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