New-look England set to face Tunisia

From left: Ashley Young, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Raheem Sterling training under the guidance of England manager Gareth Southgate.
From left: Ashley Young, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Raheem Sterling training under the guidance of England manager Gareth Southgate.PHOTO: REUTERS

ST PETERSBURG • Gareth Southgate is set to hand nine players their World Cup debuts in England's opener with Tunisia, including Harry Maguire, who watched his country's previous appearance at a major Finals as a fan.

The England manager will pick a bold, attacking line-up for the game on Monday, with Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard and Kieran Trippier featuring alongside Maguire, who travelled to France to watch Euro 2016 with his friends.

That campaign ended in humiliation with a defeat by Iceland and, given the extent of the overhaul of the national team by Southgate since then, only four survivors from that game are likely to start in Volgograd.

Marcus Rashford sat out training for a second straight day at England's base in Repino, St Petersburg and, in his absence, Southgate continued working on the team's shape before the Group G game by splitting his squad into two teams.

It is understood that Trippier, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Maguire and Young lined up in defence on one side, with Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Lingard in midfield. Raheem Sterling was deployed off captain Harry Kane.

Southgate has until today by the Baltic Sea to finalise his plans before they fly to Volgograd to start acclimatising to the hotter weather.

He must decide whether to pick Leicester City centre-back Maguire or the more experienced Gary Cahill, a player with 60 caps over an eight-year international career, and choose between Young and Danny Rose. Jordan Pickford is expected to be England's No. 1.

England will play in a 3-3-2-2 system that is designed to be brimming with pace, and focuses on players who are comfortable on the ball.

It is also heavily reliant, in the absence of orthodox wingers, on Young and Trippier breaking forward as attacking wing-backs.

Alli and Lingard are viewed as superior in a system which compensates for the lack of a natural playmaker in midfield.

"Southgate has come in with the mentality - play with freedom, play without fear - you will enjoy your time more," Lingard said. "So that is what we are going to do."

The survivors from the Iceland debacle are likely to be Kane, Sterling, Alli and Walker. Sterling and Henderson - set to start as a sole midfield pivot - are the only players to have been to a World Cup.

An issue for Southgate is the knee injury to Rashford, who had underlined his claims with a stunning goal and an effervescent all-round display in last week's final warm-up win over Costa Rica.

The striker stayed behind at England's Forrestmix hotel to work with Steve Kemp, the physio.

The 20-year-old was set to train with the main group for the first time in Russia yesterday, and is likely to start on the bench.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'New-look England set to face Tunisia'. Print Edition | Subscribe