Unlike his experiences at previous tournaments, Southgate faces an unprecedented level of scrutiny in the run up to this World Cup, with his side winless in six after what was for the most part a listless Nations League campaign.
So who will carry the flag for England in that opening group game? Some names are a shoo-in – Harry Kane, Declan Rice, John Stones – but there is plenty of contention elsewhere both in terms of personnel and, perhaps more concerningly for Southgate, general system.
With the World Cup now looming large on the horizon, our writers have selected their starting XI's.
Having not even selected Luke Shaw when asked to give my 26-man squad for Qatar last week it is a big about-turn to believe he should go straight into the team. But he has performed well over the last two matches, especially against Germany, although the worry (as with Ben Chilwell) is whether he will get enough game time with his club before the World Cup.
I firmly believe England should still go for a back-four although the issue is who is the centre-back alongside John Stones? Eric Dier deserves the chance even though he is more comfortable in a three. Stones and Kyle Walker have pace and the back four can become a three with either full-back pushing up.
The formation gets another midfielder into the team and Mason Mount can fulfil that role. I would also consider playing Bukayo Saka there even though he is naturally more of a wide player. The form of Phil Foden is a concern and Saka is also an alternative to him.
Southgate is going to play the three centre-halves in a 3-4-3 so this is a wild alternative. Ideally, a left-sided centre half would play on the left side of the defensive pair but there simply is not one available. Stones – if he is fit – might just have to do the job.
The big omission is James who deserves a place but just loses out to Walker. Plenty of invention in this side although possibly a little lacking in width. Southgate does not have a creative midfield pivot and does not seem willing to adapt one of his existing players to do it. My choice would be Mount.
The back three may not be popular, but it’s not going anywhere with Gareth Southgate in charge. Barring some sort of miracle turnaround in form and fortune, Harry Maguire cannot start England’s first World Cup game against Iran and Fikayo Tomori, with Kyle Walker on the other side, would at least allow the team to defend with a higher line.
Jude Bellingham has surely now secured his place with a fabulous display against Germany, while Mason Mount offered the perfect reminder why he is so difficult to ignore. Phil Foden has shown flashes, but has still not matched the consistent impact the Chelsea star has for his country.
Jordan Pickford’s fitness and availability will be absolutely key for England. Without him, Southgate’s men cannot play out from the back and look unsteady in defence.
Trying to solidify the team by playing an extra centre-half in a three-man defence when England are not blessed in that area does not make a great deal of sense to me, especially as they’re still conceding goals regardless. I would much prefer an extra quality player in midfield/attack in a fluid 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 and, as he showed when coming on against Germany, Buyako Saka has a lot to offer. England need players who are not only fast and creative but who are happy receiving and circulating the ball in tight spaces as well as working hard and the likes of Saka, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham offer that in abundance.
I am amazed Fikayo Tomori has not been given more of an opportunity in an England shirt but Harry Maguire’s continuing struggles against Germany reaffirmed the perils of playing someone who is not starting for his club and is in a career trough. As good a season as Eric Dier is having with Spurs, Tomori, despite his international inexperience, would offer a lot more pace alongside John Stones, whose hamstring injury we can only hope is not too serious. Current form has to be taken into consideration and Tomori is in a far better place than Maguire.
Talking of injuries, Jordan Pickford’s return in goal cannot come soon enough but I’d play Aaron Ramsdale over Nick Pope if Pickford does not make it. The Arsenal goalkeeper is better with his feet and Pope probably ended what hopes he has of starting in Qatar last night with that showing against Germany. Left back is a quandary with Luke Shaw not in United’s team and Ben Chilwell struggling for form for Chelsea. I’m not a fan of playing a right-footed player who is not totally two footed, such as Kieran Trippier, at left back as it affects the balance of the team. There’s no way Tripper is playing that ball Luke Shaw did for Raheem Sterling in the first half against Germany. Shaw was heavily involved against Germany and also offers pace at the back so gets the nod at the moment.
Three centre-backs are here to stay and experimenting with wingers as wing-backs has not worked. Solidity and structure is the Southgate way. His hope is his attackers arrive in Qatar with magic in their boots.
Trippier at left wing-back is a statement on the poverty of options compared to riches on the right. Maguire’s confidence is too brittle to stick with him now. Southgate has to look elsewhere and if Everton’s James Tarkowski continues his current form he has to be worth consideration, however unlikely it seems at this stage. A back three would suit him.
Bellingham must start, especially given Henderson’s minutes must be managed given recent injury issues. Saka adds more pace than Foden, who is yet to produce his club form for his country. Southgate can follow Sabrina Wiegman’s blueprint and unleash Foden, Mount, and Grealish in the latter stages of every game.
I was one of the few who thought Southgate was right to show faith in Harry Maguire as he was so impressive at the Euros last summer but the mistakes against Germany exposed a player who is an accident waiting to happen. Hopefully he can rediscover some form at club level before Qatar.
Trippier on the left brings defensive solidity as well as set piece prowess. If Phillips is fit, he plays instead of Mount to give Bellingham more freedom to push further up the pitch. Grealish and Foden play together at club level and are England’s flair players. Let them loose against Iran, attack and get the game won in a positive manner. Bukayo Saka keeps the pressure on them and could start instead of either.
It seems clear that Gareth Southgate will stick with his back three, but it’s also clear that it’s not working particularly well. I would shelve it, perhaps bringing it back against better opposition, and go with a 4-3-3 instead.
Unfortunately there’s simply no way that Harry Maguire can play, unless there’s a dramatic and unexpected turnaround in his form at Manchester United. Marc Guehi is comfortable as the left centre-back, and rarely puts a foot wrong in the Premier League. It’s a big ask but he’s the best option at this stage.
Up front, England are at their best when they attack with speed and width. As he showed against Germany, Bukayo Saka provides this. With him on one side and Sterling on the other, England could be deadly in transition.
After Monday's result against Germany two things are immediately clear: this group of players are capable of recovering from setbacks and they wouldn't have needed to had Harry Maguire not made a series of howlers. The other thing that is obvious is that Gareth Southgate's favoured formation of three centre backs has had its time. Not only does it reduce the numbers in midfield, it doesn't supply any greater defensive solidity.
Excellent as Jude Bellingham was against Germany, England need another creative player in midfield to help bring out the best of their attacking talents, Mason Mount the obvious candidate. If Ben Chilwell is not fit, then it is probably best to start with Luke Shaw, despite his inadequacies.
On the other side, the choices are rather more extensive. It is between degrees of excellence: Trent Alexander-Arnold or Reece James, Raheem Sterling or Bukayo Saka. I suspect Southgate will go James/Sterling. I have gone Alexander-Arnold/Saka. And lets hope Jordan Pickford is available. His reputation has soared in absence.
Bukayo Saka gave himself an excellent chance of a starting place in Qatar with his performance off the bench against Germany, looking direct and linking well with the frontline in comparison to Phil Foden. Gareth Southgate has stated he has faith in the 3-4-3 system and in that formation the mistakes of Harry Maguire make his selection too risky at this stage, while Eric Dier has played his way back into contention with his displays during the international break.
Luke Shaw needs games at Manchester United but showed what he is capable of with his breaks forward. Jordan Pickford will return in goal when he is fit, replacing Nick Pope after his mistake in England’s final game before the tournament. Jude Bellingham’s man-of-the-match display makes him a starter alongside Declan Rice and eases the worries of not having Kalvin Phillips.
HAVE YOUR SAY...
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