England head coach Gareth Southgate has backed struggling Harry Maguire ahead of their Nations League fixture against Italy.
Maguire has not started for Manchester United since their back-to-back defeats against Brighton and Brentford in the 2022-23 Premier League.
While there have been calls to drop Maguire for England's game against Italy at San Siro, Southgate has shown support to the center-back by calling him one of the top English defenders at present.
"You always have to back your judgment and we feel he is an important player," Southgate said, joking that he was putting "whatever reputation I have" on the line by picking Maguire, according to Eurosport.
Having played four games in the 2022-23 Nations League, England have not won a single game and have drawn two and lost as many. They are at the bottom of Group 3 of League A, which also includes Hungary, Germany, and Italy.
"Clearly, it's not an ideal situation [with Maguire]. We're only a few weeks on from pre-season so, physically, if they've had a few 90 minutes, that's fine. Another seven to eight weeks, that does start to become more complicated," Southgate told reporters on the eve of England's tie with Italy.
England, who are playing for the first time since their loss to Hungary in June, have not defeated Italy away since 1961.
Speaking further about Maguire, Southgate said that it is "important to back our best players," and called the Manchester United defender an "important player" for the Three Lions.
"He [Maguire] is our most dominant aerial center-back. He and John [Stones] are incredible with the ball – the amount of pressure they have taken for the team in tournaments because we don't always have that midfield pivot player who can progress the game. It means there is a huge amount more pressure on our center-backs to use the ball well and those two are as good as any in world football at doing that," added Southgate.
After Manchester United's defeats in their opening two fixtures of this season, head coach Erik ten Hag left Maguire as an unused substitute in their next three games in the Premier League, which were victories against Southampton, Liverpool, and Leicester City.
Following the away game against Italy, Southgate and Co. return home and host Germany at Wembley Stadium on Monday (Sept. 26).