Gareth Southgate backs 'slow burner' Conor Gallagher for the top: 'His mentality is outstanding'

England manager Gareth Southgate says Chelsea’s “slow burner” Conor Gallagher has the mentality to “achieve everything” in the game.

With Jude Bellingham and James Maddison missing through injury and Kalvin Phillips unavailable, Gallagher is set to make his second competitive England start in Friday's Euro 2024 qualifier against Malta at a sold-out Wembley.

Gallagher is enjoying a fine season with Chelsea, and ahead of the game Southgate gave a ringing endorsement of the 23-year-old, saying his “drive” sets him apart.

“His journey is really interesting, because with some of our players who have come into the squad young, their talent has been obvious and you would probably have picked them up at 15, 16 or 17,” Southgate said.

“But Conor is perhaps a slower burner in terms of how external people might have viewed him.

“He has got tremendous drive. This week is a classic for me. He has come with a bit of a knock from the weekend, but he walked through the door saying, ‘It is a bit sore, but I will be fine for Friday’.

“There was no way he was going home, there was no way he wasn’t going to give himself every chance.

Conor Gallagher is in line to start for England against Malta on Friday evening (The FA via Getty Images)
Conor Gallagher is in line to start for England against Malta on Friday evening (The FA via Getty Images)

“He wasn’t able to train for the first few days, but he was determined he would be available — and that, in a nutshell, is what is going to be one of his greatest strengths which will allow himself to achieve everything he might in the game. His mentality is outstanding.”

Gallagher is expected to line up in an experimental England midfield three, also including Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson.

Fikayo Tomori could start at right-back, while Arsenal pair Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka are among the stars likely to be rested, but they could return for Monday’s match in North Macedonia, when England will wrap up qualifying for next summer’s European Championship in Germany.

Southgate believes Gallagher can play a number of roles, but primarily sees him as an advanced midfielder, where the absent Bellingham and Maddison have played for England this season.

“Positionally, Conor’s best attributes lend himself to that either attacking eight or pressing as a 10, as he did for his club at the weekend,” added Southgate. “His pressing is probably as good as anyone in the [Premier] League.

"Conor Gallagher has got tremendous drive... his mentality is outstanding"

Gareth Southgate

“He regained and recovered so many balls and he has a goal in him — he hasn’t achieved that this season with his club, but we saw that with his [loan] spell at Crystal Palace and when he trains with us.

“So, although he can play lower, his best attributes are slightly higher as a midfield player, pressing the counter press, the regains, but his receiving skills and his passing lower, when he receives, have definitely improved in the last six months as well.”

Southgate also revealed that he sees Gallagher’s Chelsea team-mate Cole Palmer as an option at No10 after the 21-year-old earned his first senior call-up on Monday.

“We lost Maddison and Jude, so we wanted somebody who could play as a No10,” explained Southgate, when asked why he had selected Palmer ahead of club-mate Raheem Sterling.

“Of course, he’s playing wider at the moment for his club, but we hadn’t lost a winger as such, we’d lost two attacking midfield players.

“Raheem was excellent at the weekend against [Manchester] City, as was Cole. But the position was the reason for Cole really.”