England will play their round of 16 tie against the African champions Senegal on Sunday. It is a game that the Three Lions will be expecting to win, but it is important that they don’t get ahead of themselves. Gareth Southgate has a few big decisions to make, especially in attack. This could be their final opportunity to settle on their best eleven. It is important that the manager settles on a front three that works.
It is possible that Southgate moves back to a 3-4-3 formation when England meet one of the top nations, but supporters will hope that he sticks with the 4-3-3 that he has used in Qatar. Harry Kane selects himself, despite a minority calling for his benching. The more interesting decisions will come on either side of him. Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling were favourited by the manager prior to the tournament starting. Between them, they scored three in the first game against Iran.
When the final whistle blew against Iran, it seemed likely the pair would remain the first choices for the remainder of the tournament. However, the impact of Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford against Wales would have provided food for thought. They scored the three goals between them and looked very effective throughout the game.
Prior to the game, there was already a clamour for Foden to start. Now, there will be a similar clamour for Rashford. He looks bang in form with three goals in the group stages. Sometimes at tournaments, it is worth backing the form horse and Rashford is certainly that.
With Foden, he is a regular for the best team in England and has a natural talent that few others in world football possess. Although it is true that the roles for England and Manchester City are different, it seems worth finding a role for him. He is a match winner and moments often decide big games at international tournaments.
Against Wales, Foden and Rashford had 11 shots between them. That is high shot volume and showed what they can offer. The decision to switch them to the opposite flanks in the second half paid off for Southgate. It was one in the eye for his critics that have doubted his in-game management ability.
Rashford was dangerous every time he got the ball. He looks a different player to the one we saw at the European Championships in 2021. Every action is purposeful and he is trying to be positive in his attacking play, as shown by his three completed dribbles against Wales.
To provide some context, Saka and Sterling attempted just five shots across the first two matches. Although they were both on the scoresheet against Iran, their shot volume was more than half of Rashford and Foden’s against Wales.
If England are to get far in the World Cup, they need to carry a bigger threat than the one they showed at the business end of the previous two tournaments. Selecting two players who like to pull the trigger will help fix that issue.
It will be interesting to see what team Southgate selects against Senegal as it will tell us a lot about his mindset. Throughout his time as England manager, he has ignored the noise and public clamours. They won’t impact his decision making.
That said, it will be difficult for him to ignore the form of Rashford in particular. As Raheem Sterling is one of the first names on the team sheet, it would be a huge call to drop him.
A more likely solution is to play Rashford in place of Saka and leave Sterling in the team. If Foden is to start, it would have to be in place of Mason Mount. Considering Southgate’s previous comments about Foden being used in a central role, that feels unlikely.