Bukayo Saka is set to be rewarded for his brilliant Arsenal form with his first-ever World Cup start as England manager Gareth Southgate prepares to send his team out on the attack.
Southgate has been deliberating between Saka and Phil Foden for England’s opening game against Iran, with the Arsenal star hopeful of getting the nod.
The England manager is in line to start with a back four and use both Saka and Mason Mount in advanced positions. The pair sparked a brilliant turnaround as substitutes in England’s last warm-up game against Germany, with the Chelsea midfielder scoring.
Saka also started in the victory over Germany in the European Championships, which Southgate on Sunday presented as an example of how England should play.
“We have been flexible because we have felt in certain matches that has been important - Germany in the first knockout game last time would have been an example of that,” said Southgate. “We could get pressure all over the pitch and it was clearer how that pressure should be applied.”
Saka has starred in Arsenal’s brilliant start to the Premier League season, which has seen the north Londoners take a five-point lead at the top of the table into the break for the World Cup.
The 21-year-old has scored five goals and assisted six times for Arsenal, and was this week backed to take and score a penalty for England at the World Cup, having missed from the spot in the final of the Euros.
The expected inclusion of Saka over Foden will come as a slight surprise, as the Manchester City midfielder is seen as a key man for England.
Southgate has stressed he plans to rotate his team through the group stages, which could offer Foden a chance from the start against the United States or Wales and the 22-year-old will still hope to make his World Cup debut against Iran as a substitute.
Kyle Walker is not fit enough to be involved against Iran, but expects to be ready for the USA game on Friday, while James Maddison has been ruled out of the opener after missing training again on Sunday.
Harry Kane will lead England’s attack knowing that he has the chance to become the first-ever player to win the Golden Boot in two successive World Cups, having top-scored in 2018, and could break Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring record with three goals in Qatar.
“Of course, it (the Golden Boot) would be a great thing to achieve,” said Kane. “I was able to do it in 2018 and it helped the team get to the semi-finals. If I win it again, it means the team is going pretty well and we are going far.
“Of course, as a striker, I am judged on scoring goals. I know how that works, but the most important thing is giving everything for the team that is necessary to win. We are playing against the Ronaldos, Messis and Neymars, the best players in the world, the list goes on.
“I try not to think about things like the Golden Boot, the most important thing is trying to win the World Cup and that is what mine and the team’s focus is on.”
On the possibility of beating Rooney’s all-time record of 53 England goals, Kane added: “Hopefully as soon as possible for sure. I know it is there and people talk about it, but I like to focus on my game and do my best for the team.
“I know the team will create chances and I have to be ready for the ones that come my way. I was lucky enough to play with Wayne and I looked up to him and watched him in the major tournaments, and to be close to him is an honour. But I am not going to panic, I am just going to focus day by day.”
Probable England team (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Trippier, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Bellingham, Rice; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane.