Having fielded an unchanged team against the USA on Friday, there will be a temptation for Gareth Southgate to make alterations against Wales on Tuesday night.
Not necessarily because he thinks his team were poor against the Americans, although the boos that greeted the full-time whistle were rather indicative of the nation’s mood after the goalless draw.
Southgate actually spoke positively about his team’s performance. Privately, however, you’d imagine he wasn’t entirely satisfied with certain elements of his players’ output.
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 showdown appears probable – though given England could still be eliminated against Rob Page’s team it is highly unlikely the 52-year-old will make wholesale alterations.
Southgate will not disrespect Wales. Nor will he disrespect the fact there is still something, however small, riding on this game.
But above all else, he will want to win the match – particularly after the negative reaction to Friday performance.
Reinvigorating England’s forward line seems a logical place to start. Having plundered six past Iran last week, England’s attacking play was noticeably less vibrant on Friday; mustering just three shots on target.
Their attacking approach was laboured throughout, though that criticism wasn’t exclusive to England’s forwards on the night.
Southgate will not be taking anything for granted against Wales on Tuesday night
The smart money says Harry Kane will play, though he appeared to be hampered by the ankle knock that put his availability against the USA into question.
With qualification for the knockout stages assured, Southgate rested his captain for the final group game against Belgium at the previous World Cup.
Four years later, England do not have the same luxury; though the prospect of losing by four goals against the Welsh, whose solitary World Cup goal has been a penalty, are minuscule at best.
Yet, Southgate will not be taking anything granted which points to a starting role for Kane. The identity of those that support him, however, is an area Southgate will scrutinise.
Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka were all outstanding against Iran, but were less convincing versus the States.
On the night, Saka and Sterling were both replaced, the latter walking straight down the tunnel after his substitution – though he did return to take his place on the bench.
The notion of dropping Sterling is one riddled with difficulties. First and foremost, behind Kane, the Chelsea star remains England’s most influential attacking player.
Bukayo Saka could make way if Southgate decides to reinvigorate England’s forward line
Many will argue he is as important as England’s No 9; omitting him for the team to face Wales would create frenzy, one 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 Championships.
Doing so mid-World Cup would be seismic and create a storm – one that Southgate would see as avoidable.
Whether it’s Sterling, Saka or Mount that makes way will become clearer over the next 24 hours but the two players that stand to benefit the most if Southgate does decide to refresh his attack are Phil Foden and Jack Grealish.
Starting with Foden would appease large sections of the fanbase who have been baffled by the Manchester City forward’s lack of action here in Qatar so far.
Jude Bellingham was superb against Iran, but he found the going much tougher against USA
Drafting Foden into the team appears a logical change. However, it is important to note that Southgate introduced Grealish into the fold ahead of Foden against the USA.
The England manager likes Grealish’s ability to carry the ball up the pitch and draw fouls. Given how infrequently England created goalscoring opportunities on Friday, set-pieces could be crucial against the Welsh.
In midfield, Southgate may also be enticed into a change. Declan Rice, barring an unexpected decision, should start – but having the comfort of greater experience next to the West Ham skipper is something the national team boss is considering.
Jude Bellingham was a revelation against Iran, but he found the going much tougher against the USA.
‘We cannot roll Jude for 90 minutes every game. We have to look after him,’ Southgate told media on Friday.
There have been calls for Phil Foden and Jack Grealish in the aftermath of Friday’s flat display
Rotating the Borussia Dortmund midfielder isn’t a decision Southgate will take lightly – particular given his popularity back home.
But if Bellingham does drop out of the team, Southgate would ideally want Kalvin Phillips to partner Rice.
However, the fact the Manchester City man has played just 54 minutes of football this season means his selection would be a massive gamble.
Jordan Henderson could come in if Southgate decides to tinker in his engine room
Jordan Henderson, who replaced Bellingham against the USA, seems a safer bet if Southgate decides to tinker in his engine room.
Bellingham would be unlucky not to play against Wales but there is certainly rationale in the any move to rotate the 19-year-old.
Depending on how the game develops, Southgate will surely consider introducing Phillips and club team-mate Kyle Walker.
There was hope the duo, who made the squad by the skin of their teeth after recovering from respective surgeries, would have played some part in the games against the USA – but circumstances prevented that.
If neither get any minutes against Wales, we will have to question their level of involvement during the unforgiving knockout rounds.
The fact Walker has played regular football prior to the groin operation that placed his World Cup involvement under a cloud should mean he is better equipped than Phillips to play some part against Wales.
England’s clean sheet against the Americans indicates that Southgate will select the same defence tomorrow night, but getting minutes in Walker’s legs should be a priority provided the game is going according to plan.
Post source: Daily mail