Southgate’s selection dilemmas heading into World Cup
England start their campaign against Tunisia on June 18.
Gareth Southgate admits he has been left with some “serious decisions” after England’s encouraging World Cup preparations.
After beating Nigeria 2-1 at Wembley over the weekend, Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck goals secured the Three Lions a comfortable 2-0 win against Costa Rica on Thursday evening.
With the final warm-up friendlies out of the way and Group G opener against Tunisia edging closer, Press Association Sport’s Simon Peach takes a look at some of the decisions Southgate has to make before June 18.
Who to pick in goal?
Joe Hart played a key role in England’s qualification for Russia, yet poor form and a lack of game-time means the 75-cap goalkeeper does not even get a boarding pass. Instead, England’s trio of shot-stoppers have a mere 12 caps between them. Nick Pope came on for his debut against Costa Rica and is sure to play third-fiddle this summer, with the man he replaced in the second half on Thursday, Jack Butland, likely to be back-up. Butland has come through the ranks with England and long looked like Hart’s successor, yet Jordan Pickford’s ability on the ball means he seems set to get the nod. Given the number one shirt after starting against Nigeria, the three-cap keeper looks a bold selection.
Stones plus two?
Southgate made 10 changes when Costa Rica came to Elland Road, with John Stones the only man to start both friendlies. The ball-playing Manchester City defender is a favourite of the England manager, but did he start both games because he is a shoo-in for Tunisia? Or did a recent lack of club minutes leave questions to answer? There is no doubt that Southgate will play a back three, though. Improving Harry Maguire, resurgent Gary Cahill and established Phil Jones are options, with marauding full-back Kyle Walker looking set to take the role on the right after his impressive transition there in March.
Rose or Young to be left back on the bench?
Southgate said leaving Ryan Bertrand out of the World Cup squad was one of his toughest decisions, having played a key role in qualification. Instead, the England manager plumped for a player lacking starts and another that only kicked on in the position in his thirties. Danny Rose – who this week spoke so eloquently about his mental health struggles – looks the best option despite a stop-start campaign at Tottenham leaving the left-back conceding he was “very lucky” to be selected. Rose did well against Costa Rica days after Ashley Young got the nod to face Nigeria at Wembley, where he struggled against Tyronne Ebuehi’s pace during the second half. Whether that damages his hopes of a starting berth remains to be seen, especially given how superbly the former attacking midfielder has performed for Manchester United.
Henderson or Dier to start?
Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier are two of Southgate’s most trusted lieutenants – but one of them looks set to miss out against Tunisia. Both have skippered their country during Southgate’s reign, but the need for two attack-minded central midfield options means one of them looks set to fall by the wayside. Dier played that anchoring role against Nigeria and Henderson, wearing the captain’s armband, filled it against Costa Rica. Southgate only wants to play with one ‘pivot’ so unless Dier drops into the back three or Henderson plays more advanced something has to give on June 18. “It is a key decision, but that’s management isn’t it? You either select players, or you choose your system and pick the best people to fit into it,” Southgate said. “They’re the tough calls.”
Kane and who else is able?
Harry Kane is the first name on the team sheet. A proven goalscorer, cool head and England’s captain in Russia, the question is how best to complement him. Raheem Sterling heads to the World Cup off the back of an outstanding season with Manchester City, but his struggles to translate club form on the international stage are well documented. Jamie Vardy and Welbeck have proven their worth, but Rashford gave the most compelling case during the friendlies to join Kane. Playing with a freedom all too uncommon at Manchester United this term, the 20-year-old scored an outstanding opener in a man-of-the-match display against Costa Rica.