England team news: Bukayo Saka to start as Gareth Southgate opts for back four

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling Credit: Alamy
Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling Credit: Alamy

England are expected to face Iran on Monday with a back four and an attacking combination featuring Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka.

Saka has scored four Premier League goals and claimed six assists this season as the Gunners have forged an unlikely lead at the top of the table.

He came off the bench against Germany in England’s last game – a 3-3 draw – and changed the match along with Mason Mount, who is also expected to start v Iran.

Saka and Mount are expected to form part of a four-man attack along with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, with Jude Bellingham partnering Declan Rice in central midfield.

A back four will line up as expected with Kieran Trippier, John Stones, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, which ends speculation that Gareth Southgate would opt for the safety of a back five even within the group stages.

Predicted line-up: Pickford; Trippier, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Bellingham; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane.

We expect the inclusion of Mount to be the stick Southgate will be beaten with if England do not beat Iran as expected on Monday afternoon.

England met up on Monday and jetted out to Qatar the following day, with James Maddison the only player ruled out against Iran as he recovers from a knee issue.

“Everybody is available bar James Maddison for tomorrow,” Southgate said.

“It’s a little bit early for Kyle Walker but he is training with the team, so that’s ahead of where we thought he might be at this stage. Very positive.

“We’re looking forward to this challenge and I’ve really liked the way the players have approached training this week.

“It’s been a good transition for us because training a couple of days earlier (in the day) with the heat, which we wanted to adapt to.

“Now we’ve had a couple of lighter sessions later at night. It’s quite cool now, so we feel that that’s been good physical tapering for the game.”

Meanwhile, Southgate believes he has turned the England job from an impossible task into a sought-after post as he prepares to lead the nation into the World Cup.

There was no list of high-profile applicants when Southgate replaced Sam Allardyce in 2016, just months after England had embarrassingly crashed out of the European Championship at the hands of Iceland.

Since then, the former Three Lions defender has led his country to a semi-final at the 2018 World Cup, a third place in the inaugural Nations League and came within a penalty shoot-out of delivering Euro 2020 success last summer.

However, a run of poor results recently has left England without a win in six games and seen Southgate come under pressure for the first time.

While the 52-year-old has a contract until 2024, there have been some big-name coaches who have said the England job would interest them.

Former Tottenham and Paris St Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino recently told the Athletic he was “open” to the idea, while it has been reported that ex-Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel is also keen on the role.

Asked if it was a compliment to the work he has done that there are people courting the position, Southgate replied: “Maybe we’ve made the impossible just look possible.

“Look, maybe we’ve made it look possible and it’s exciting for other people and I can understand that. We want England to be competitive for years to come and I believe that our academy system has got that.

“I think there are challenges within that because we’re back to 31 per cent of the league being eligible for England and only four or five exports of a high level so there are still some challenges for us in terms of development of players and opportunity for players.

“But we have also got some good players and we should be competitive for the next six, eight years with this group.”

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