Having fielded an unchanged squad against the USA on Friday, Gareth Southgate will be tempted to make changes against Wales on Tuesday night.
Not necessarily because he thinks his team fared poorly against the Americans, though the boos at the final whistle were more indicative of the nation’s mood after the goalless draw.
Southgate actually spoke positively about his team’s performance. Privately though, you can imagine that he wasn’t entirely pleased with certain elements of the player’s production of him.
England boss Gareth Southgate talks to Raheem Sterling during a training session on Sunday.
So the likelihood of Southgate changing his starting XI in Tuesday’s clash looks likely, although given England could still be knocked out against Rob Page’s side, it’s highly unlikely the 52-year-old will make full changes.
Southgate will not disrespect Wales. It will also not disrespect the fact that there is still something, however small, at stake in this game.
But above all, he will want to win the match, especially after the backlash to Friday’s performance.
Revitalizing England’s attack line seems a logical place to start. Having looted six against Iran last week, England’s attacking game was noticeably less vibrant on Friday; achieving only three shots on goal.
His attacking approach was labored throughout, although that criticism was not exclusive to the England strikers on the night.
Southgate will take nothing for granted against Wales on Tuesday night
The smart money says Harry Kane will play, though he appeared to be hampered by the sprained ankle that put his availability against the US in question.
With qualification for the round of 16 secured, Southgate rested their captain for the final group game against Belgium in the previous World Cup.
Four years later, England does not have the same luxury; although the prospect of losing by four goals against the Welsh, whose only World Cup goal has been a penalty, is slim at best.
However, Southgate won’t be taking anything for granted that points to a starting role for Kane. However, the identity of his supporters is an area Southgate will examine.
Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka all stood out against Iran but were less convincing against the United States.
That night, Saka and Sterling were substituted, the latter walking straight down the tunnel after his substitution, though he returned to take his place on the bench.
The idea of abandoning the British pound is fraught with difficulties. First of all, behind Kane, the Chelsea star is still the most influential attacking player in England.
Bukayo Saka could break through if Southgate decides to reinvigorate England’s attacking line
Many will argue that he is as important as England’s number 9; Skipping it for the team to face Wales would create a frenzy, one that Southgate could probably do without.
The England boss has shown immense loyalty to Sterling during his reign, ignoring calls for him to be dropped, most memorably ahead of last year’s European Championship.
To do so in the middle of the World Cup would be seismic and would create a storm, one that Southgate would consider avoidable.
Whether Sterling, Saka, or Mount breaks through will become clear in the next 24 hours, but the two players who will benefit the most if Southgate decides to update their attack are Phil Foden and Jack Grealish.
Starting Foden would appease large sections of the fanbase who have been baffled by the Manchester City striker’s lack of action here in Qatar so far.
Jude Bellingham was excellent against Iran but found it much more difficult against the USA.
Recruiting Foden into the team seems like a logical change. However, it’s important to note that Southgate brought Grealish into the fold before Foden did against the USA.
The England manager likes Grealish’s ability to carry the ball down the field and commit fouls. Given how infrequently England created scoring chances on Friday, set pieces could prove crucial against the Welsh.
In midfield, Southgate may also be drawn to a change. Declan Rice, barring an unexpected decision, should start, but having the comfort of more experience at the West Ham captain’s side is something the national team boss is considering.
Jude Bellingham was a revelation against Iran but found things much more difficult against the USA.
‘We can’t shoot Jude for 90 minutes every game. We have to take care of it,’ Southgate told the media on Friday.
There have been calls for Phil Foden and Jack Grealish after Friday’s flat screen.
The Borussia Dortmund midfielder’s rotation is not a decision Southgate will take lightly, especially given his popularity at home.
But if Bellingham leaves the team, Southgate would ideally want Kalvin Phillips to partner Rice.
However, the fact that the Manchester City man has played just 54 minutes of football this season means his team would be quite the gamble.
Jordan Henderson could enter if Southgate decides to play in his engine room
Jordan Henderson, who replaced Bellingham against the USA, looks like a safer bet if Southgate decides to play in their engine room.
Bellingham would be unlucky not to play Wales, but there’s certainly logic to any move to rotate the 19-year-old.
Depending on how the game pans out, Southgate will surely consider introducing Phillips and his teammate Kyle Walker.
There was hope that the duo, who made the team by the skin of their teeth after recovering from their respective surgeries, would have played a role in the games against the USA, but circumstances prevented it.
If neither man gets minutes against Wales, we’ll have to question their level of involvement during the relentless playoffs.
The fact that Walker played regular football before the groin operation that put his World Cup appearance under a cloud should mean he is better equipped than Phillips to play any role against Wales.
England’s clean sheet against the Americans indicates that Southgate will select the same defense tomorrow night, but getting minutes on Walker’s legs should be a priority as long as the game goes to plan.