The Premier League has finished for the time being. The focus for football fans will now be on Qatar. England are a divisive subject under Gareth Southgate. Some believe he isn’t extracting the most from the talented squad and he is too defensive to win a tournament. Others think that he is the best England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey, and he has enough credit in the bank to be supported this winter.
He has named his squad for the tournament. There are some minor gripes about the absences of Fikayo Tomori and Ivan Toney, but the reaction has been more positive than normal. The big debate prior to the announcement was James Maddison, as it was thought Southgate wouldn’t find a place for the midfielder. However, the Leicester City man is in the squad and that has saved the Three Lions’ boss from major criticism.
As I write this today, we are seven days away from the opening match of the tournament against Iran. There will be team news that comes out in the coming days that could change what is going to follow in this article. I will outline the team that I think Southgate should start against Iran.
The squad suggests that Southgate will lean heavily on the three/five at the back formation that has become a regular selection over recent years. That said, he has given himself options to play four at the back and that could be something he considers in the group matches. The three opponents are weaker than England and likely to set up to frustrate them. Selecting an extra attacker could be key in breaking these sides down.
Out of the three teams, Iran are the most stubborn. They will set up in a deep block and Carlos Queiroz has experience of being successful with such a tactic. England have been frustrated in matches like this one at previous tournaments and it will be a good measure of where they are. If Southgate selects a back three in this game, he may lose the nation’s support before a ball is kicked.
Jordan Pickford is an easy selection as number one. He hasn’t let England down and he seems to produce his best football in the international arena.
Kieran Trippier has been one of the best players in the Premier League this season. Few would have expected him to be England’s right back in Qatar, but a combination of injuries and poor form of competitors means he will be in the team. Ben White has been excellent for Arsenal, but he has been used as a right-back. This means that the likely selections at centre-back are John Stones and Harry Maguire. Like Pickford, they haven’t let England down and probably deserve to start in Qatar.
White will be pushing them though and if Maguire’s poor form continues, he should be dropped as the tournament progresses. The lack of another left-sided centre back in the squad suggests Southgate doesn’t even consider dropping the Manchester United as an option.
The injury to Ben Chilwell confirms that Luke Shaw will start at left-back. That was probably true before, as Southgate has always favoured him over his competitor from Chelsea. Interestingly, it is Trippier that is the back-up on the left, or perhaps Bukayo Saka will start if we play a formation with wing-backs.
In midfield, Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice are certain to start, regardless of the formation. The former could be the breakout star of the tournament. As he plays abroad, he is still underrated in this country, but he could be one of England’s best players. Rice will play the deeper role, even if West Ham fans think that is wasting his talents.
If Southgate opts for a 4-3-3 in this game, the interesting selection will be the third midfielder. James Maddison would be the exciting option. It is more likely Mason Mount will get the nod, due to his experience in international football and tactical flexibility.
A couple more guaranteed selections are Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. The pair play well together for England and are usually the source of goals from open play. At the 2018 World Cup, Kane was the one scoring. Meanwhile at the recent Euros, it was Sterling. Both have to start.
The final selection is up for grabs. It will be hoped that Phil Foden starts, but Bukayo Saka has been much better for the national team. He is likely to start if we play a 4-3-3.
Predicted XI: (4-3-3) Jordan Pickford; Kieran Trippier, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Mason Mount; Bukayo Saka, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling.