Paul Merson says Gareth Southgate is spoiled for choice as he finalizes his World Cup rosters, and that England will have to be lucky if it is to have any chance of success in Qatar.
Southgate, who selected a preliminary roster of 55 men at the end of October, must reduce that to a final group of 26 for the tournament, which runs from November 20 to December 18.
The England boss will announce his final 26-man squad on Thursday at 2 p.m. and here Merson discusses the key talking points…
Selection headache for Gareth
Gareth has too many choices for England. He pulls out his hair before Thursday.
Now he has to leave players out. Players who had a chance and will be disappointed not to take it.
That was never the case in England before. Probably the last time that happened was Gazza [in 1998].
Trent perfect for group games
He [Trent Alexander-Arnold] will go. You have to take him. He is a talented football player. He’s not a great defender, but the boy can pass the ball. The first three games we play will be against teams that are behind the ball, so we need someone to break them down.
I would be shocked if he didn’t start in the first few games where we are going to dominate the ball. I would be shocked if we didn’t have 70 percent possession in those three games.
For me he has to start in those group matches. However, I don’t see that happening when we get to the knockouts and we have 47 percent of the ball.
Maddison can fly under radar
If you don’t take it [James Maddison] it all goes out the window. You don’t worry about picking players in form if he doesn’t leave. You just rely on players you know, who are reliable. Well, times change. You have to go ahead and pick the players in form.
There is currently no one who plays better than James Maddison – as an English forward. He could be the pearl. He is a player not many people will know. People are watching the Premier League, but it won’t be on the radar of many teams.
They’re going to be talking about Sterling and Rashford and Kane – they’re not going to be talking about Maddison. He could be the one who takes teams cold. He makes things happen and he’s in rich form – I’m making him a shoo-in.
‘Intelligent’ Wilson second to Kane
I am a big fan. Callum Wilson has international movement. As a striker, he has incredible movement. He’s top notch. You’re talking about Erling Haaland – Haaland has incredible movement, but he also has speed, so it shows more. Wilson doesn’t have the same pace, but he does have an intelligent movement.
He will score goals in the six-yard box. He gets his goals in the penalty area. He’s definitely going. He is second after Kane. If you want a goal, you have to put Wilson in front of someone.
If you lose a game and you have to take a chance, you want someone to throw the ball into the net from six meters. Wilson is first behind Harry Kane because he is a natural goalscorer.
The English group is harder than it looks
We’ll have to be lucky. We don’t hold the ball long enough. If you look at the European Championship when we got to the final, I don’t think we had more possession than any team we played against. Not sure if we did. Now, that’s all right at Wembley. But when you play in Qatar in 80-90 degrees, you have to keep the ball. You don’t want to be hunting all day.
For me we have to be lucky. I’m not exaggerating, I find the group difficult. I don’t take this group for granted. Iran will be fresh, they will be fine with the heat. Then it’s Wales playing their biggest game ever, that’s going to be tough.
USA will be one of the most disciplined teams – they will be fit. It’s a dangerous group because we’ll have to take it to those teams when we feel more comfortable playing counter-attacking football.
Defensive style great for knockout football
Gareth was a defender. He has been a defender all his life. A top defender then. Look at Italy’s match in the European Championship final – we beat them, we are 1-0 up. Just go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? The worst part is that it will be 1-1. If we lead 2-0, we are European champions.
Throughout his career, all his training sessions were defensive-minded. That’s just the way it is. I wouldn’t say he goes out thinking ‘let’s all get behind the ball’. But he is a defensive coach.
That may be stable in the final stages, but when we have to bring it to teams, it won’t.
England’s World Cup squad will be announced on Thursday at 2 p.m.; Follow all the news and reactions live on Sky Sports News and Sky Sports Digital with Rob Dorsett answering your questions about England’s confirmed squad on Thursday afternoon