CHRIS SUTTON: Only four players are nailed on to start for England in World Cup opener against Iran
Only half a dozen countries can win the World Cup this year, and England is one of them. But do you still trust them to perform?
The 4-0 home defeat by Hungary in June was the first time England fans turned on Gareth Southgate, with boos ringing out at Molineux and chants of ‘you’ll be sacked tomorrow’.
After that humiliation, Southgate will know he needs a performance – you don’t go into a World Cup having lost 4-0 to Hungary, then been beaten by Italy and Germany with two flat performances. We often get carried away going into the World Cup, but I don’t think anyone will feel optimistic if the performances are not there in the next four days.
England fans lost some faith in the side after the disappointing Nations League campaign
England need to find the form that saw them go all the way to the final of Euro 2020 last year
Can it be much lower than Hungary? Well, if we can’t do it against Italy and Germany, then maybe we’re about to find out.
There were people who lost faith for the first time after June’s games, but let’s get one thing straight: for all the negativity surrounding Southgate after Hungary, this is a man who not so long ago took us to a European Championship -final and a WC semi. – final. You can’t win as England manager – you beat Germany 2-0 at a European Championship and hear, ‘That’s a bad German team’.
You get to a World Cup semi-final and ‘they had an easy draw’. This is a guy who has achieved really big things for England, he hasn’t quite got over the line, but we can’t judge him just by what happened in June. We were one penalty shootout against Italy away from calling Southgate an absolute genius and the best manager since Sir Alf Ramsey.
The biggest problem for him is that, with two months to go until Qatar, we are all still so unsure of who the best 11 players are and what the best formation is.
How many players can you safely say are locked in a starting spot? Southgate loves Jordan Pickford, Harry Kane is set, Declan Rice is set, Raheem Sterling too. But other than that? He loves Mason Mount, but there must be questions about the Chelsea man’s place in the team with his performances this season and with so much talent going forward, he can’t rest on his laurels.
Gareth Southgate will use this week’s games to train his best XI for the World Cup
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling will definitely be in the starting XI for the Iran clash
These two games against Italy and Germany are really important for us all to feel faith in Southgate again. The way they play in Milan tomorrow night and at Wembley on Monday is more important than the results. It’s about demonstrating flow, a style of play where we all have confidence in this England team.
It’s about stripping things back — does the back three actually work in terms of getting the ball into Kane and Sterling? Are partnerships, combinations and play patterns emerging? There has to be something in these games where we all sit there and think, ‘Wow, it looks like it’s clicking,’ and the confidence flows from there.
England have struggled for goals recently, scoring just once in their four Nations League games in June, but a lack of good attacking performances is a bigger concern.
There are so many options in wide areas and Southgate has probably confused himself as much as anything else. It is really difficult for him with so few players fit.
There is a lack of continuity when playing with different front lines and personnel. The one constant is going to be Kane and then you have to have players around him that suit his style of play. Sterling will be a definite starter whether it’s 3-5-2, 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1. We know Kane likes to drop deep and find runners in behind and Sterling can do that. It’s really interesting when you think about the options we have going forward and no surprise that Southgate can’t land in a set starting XI.
Declan Rice is another shoo-in as he is Southgate’s favorite to play in midfield
CHRIS SUTTON’S XI STAND OVER ITALY
(3-4-1-2): Ramsdale; Walker, Tomori, Stones; James, Rice, Bellingham, Chilwell; The foot; Kane, Sterling.
Mount has played various roles for England, Phil Foden has had a good start to the season at Manchester City, Foden’s teammate Jack Grealish has been OK and Bukayo Saka has been excellent at Arsenal. Of all the options, Saka seems the one on current form who deserves an opportunity to start.
It’s a big week for Mount and Jarrod Bowen, with the likes of James Maddison, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all in far superior club form, but not in this squad. Southgate always seems to find a place for Mount in his team, but he’s not stupid, he knows it’s all about winning the World Cup. As an England fan, I want to know more about the starting XI now, but with so many players out of form or injured, it has created a massive conundrum for Southgate.
Although I think we are one of the teams that can lift the World Cup in Qatar, I still rank France, Spain, Brazil and Argentina ahead of us. But if it clicks, and it’s a big if with England at the moment, we’ve got players capable of hurting anybody. Based on recent performances, you wouldn’t expect that to happen, so we have to turn it around – starting this week against formidable opposition.
Jordan Pickford, who is currently injured, has handed down the No.1 shirt under Southgate