Gareth Southgate’s comments about Jack Grealish needing to improve are nothing new, for the player himself or for anyone wanting to shine at the top level. Pep Guardiola has not and will not allow anybody in his squad to think that they do not need to get any better, because otherwise they would not have had the individual and collective drive to win back-to-back Premier League titles not once but twice.

Whatever was said after the Germany game, Grealish knows that he is at the best club to push for an England start at the World Cup. As Southgate noted earlier this month, it was only last summer at the Euros when it was deemed an outrage that he was being left out of the side and now people question when he does start.

As every player seeks to get regular game time before the Qatar tournament this winter, Guardiola may have to consider the idea that some players consider a short-term loan if they fear they will not get the minutes at the Etihad they need to head into the World Cup in the best possible condition. The player and position where that looks most obvious at the minute is goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

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Steffen will almost certainly travel with the US men’s national team in November; the coach Gregg Berhalter knows how good he is from their days together at Columbus Crew in MLS, and has plumped for him as his No.1 goalkeeper. Over the past year though, that status has been eroded somewhat.

New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner – who will join Arsenal this summer – and New York City FC stopper Sean Johnson have both fought their way back into contention for a starting berth in the side, while Nottingham Forest’s Ethan Horvath is also battling to be included in the squad. All three have benefitted from Steffen’s struggles with injuries and lack of playing time this season.

Berhalter has made it clear (as any coach would) that he wants his players to be featuring as often as possible for their clubs before joining up with the national team, and Steffen’s two most recent games – Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying and Liverpool in the FA Cup – saw him produce costly errors as his side lost. As the keeper weighs up the time between now and the break in the 2022/23 season for the World Cup, the only games he could feasibly start are one Carabao Cup game and any Champions League matches where the Blues have already topped their group.

Steffen didn’t rule out a new challenge when he signed a new City contract in November 2021, and he could hardly be blamed if he felt a short-term move would help cement his position with USMNT before the World Cup. On the other hand, Arsenal’s purchase of Turner could mean his main rival for the gloves does not feature as much – unless he is able to oust the popular Aaron Ramsdale at the Emirates.

Were Steffen to push for a loan, that could change City’s plans for the season. Ederson will still be Guardiola’s No.1 and Scott Carson will sign a new deal to stay in the squad, but it would open up a spot for youngsters James Trafford or Gavin Bazunu – currently slated for another move after their success away from the Etihad last season – to stay as Ederson’s back-up for the first half of the season and play the cup games that Steffen would have done.

It would certainly be an unusual situation, but then so is a winter World Cup. And a similar situation did unfold in 2018 when a serious injury to Claudio Bravo left a teenage Aro Muric as Ederson’s back-up for the majority of the season.

Providing all went to plan, Steffen would return to City in the New Year having played for his country in the World Cup and in a better rhythm to be able to help the Blues for the second half of the season.

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