Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett discusses the big selection problem England manager Gareth Southgate faces against Senegal in Sunday’s World Cup and what he can expect from the African champions…
Less than two days before the game against Senegal, Gareth Southgate has chosen what he considers to be England’s strongest XI against Iran.
Let’s remember that the England manager always wants to start the World Cup with the team he thinks is the best.
The more important question is – what, if anything, has happened in the last three games to change his mind?
The most important question is – have Marcus Rashford and/or Phil Foden done enough with their performances to earn a starting spot ahead of Bukayo Saka and/or Raheem Sterling?
The number of sides will undoubtedly remain the same. As, I hope, the formation – the 4-3-3 has worked well for England in the tournament so far, allowing them to be an extra man in the middle of the game, so I hope that doesn’t change.
The back four is likely to be similar, although it is difficult between Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier at right back. Walker can win this battle – his exceptional speed is a quality that Southgate has always appreciated, although without Trippier in the team, England lose his skill and pieces.
Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham are other options in the midfield, and Jordan Henderson could be accepted ahead of Mason Mount, thanks to his experience and steady presence.
We know that Harry Kane will lead England, despite his poor performance in this World Cup. The captain is not playing fast, but he insisted in the pre-match press conference that he is fine and feeling good.
And his involvement is significant: his three assists are the most by any Englishman at the World Cup since David Beckham more than two decades ago.
So the main areas of contention revolve around England’s attacking positions, which have been hotly debated since the win over Wales. And, of course, long before the game.
Expect Jack Grealish to remain the dominant force in England, so it’s a question of ‘two out of four’, with possible attractive arguments for any of Rashford, Foden, Sterling and Saka.
Southgate said in his press conference before the match that “he is not sure there is a right or wrong decision”, because all four are unique and each of them offers something different. That is very true.
He also said – correctly – that there are five substitutes, each of them has the ability to play a role on the bench.
Among the media there is a feeling that, because Henderson, Rashford and Foden have done interviews with the media in the last few days, they should be in the starting line-up.
I don’t know if the FA or Southgate works like that.
But what is certain is that the FA’s game reviewers have been working long hours to sort out the record of England’s last 16 rivals.
And I have been told that it has shown a side of Senegal that is flexible, stable (they have changed tactics in their three group games), unpredictable, but with a lot of quality and a good look.
Make no mistake, although the USA caused England problems and dominated the midfield in most of the 0-0 draws, they rarely threatened Jordan Pickford’s goal.
Southgate says he expects Senegal to perform well in the match, even without their talisman Sadio Mane.
They have also been weakened by the suspension of Everton’s Idrissa Gueye in midfield, but the Teranga Lions remain a threat to England’s Three Lions.
Southgate’s team is taking nothing for granted, and while they are favorites to advance to the quarter-finals, the buzzwords in the England camp are: focus, confidence, and caution.
Southgate: England ready to accept penalties
Southgate says England are “mentally and physically ready” to face penalties when they face Senegal on Sunday.
England have been involved in three shootouts since Southgate took over in 2016. They defeated Colombia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia before defeating Switzerland in the Nations League the following year.
Although their most recent shootout ended in defeat against Italy in last summer’s Euro 2020 final, England boss Southgate believes his players are ready to go the distance against the African giants as they bid for a place in the finals in Qatar this weekend.
“We’re ready. We’ve got a plan we’ve followed,” Southgate said in his pre-kick-off press conference.
“We have won two out of three matches and we are looking at how we can improve. But of course, there are many other areas that we need to improve.
“We want to win the game in 90 minutes and avoid extra time and penalties. But if we have to go beyond that we have to be mentally and physically ready. I believe we are.”
England’s path to the World Cup final
Round 16 – Sunday December 4th
England vs Senegal – Start at 7pm
Quarter-finals – Saturday December 10
England vs France or Poland – Start at 7pm
Semi-finals – Wednesday December 14
England vs Morocco/Spain/Portugal/Switzerland – Start at 7pm