England manager Gareth Southgate is concerned growing expectation levels on Phil Foden could be setting him up to fail.
The Manchester City midfielder has played just 19 minutes of football in Qatar across England’s opening two games.
He came off the bench in the opening 6-2 thrashing of Iran but was an unused substitute in Friday’s goalless stalemate with the USA.
There was widespread clamour for Foden to be introduced and Southgate was criticised for not utilising the 22-year-old as his side struggled to create chances at the Al Bayt Stadium.
He could come into the side that faces Wales on Tuesday, with Southgate tipped to make changes – but the England boss has warned against expecting too much from Foden at this stage of his career.
“We have to be careful because we are putting a lot of pressure on him now,” he said.
“We’re a team and we need all of the players and they can all play a part but not any one of them is the reason we will win or lose.
“We need to make sure we are not building Phil into a situation where actually if he steps on the pitch this is becoming really difficult for him because the level of expectation is beyond a young guy who is still establishing himself internationally, in a different environment from his club where you’re comfortable with all the players you play with, it’s really distinctive, you’re going home every night, you’re calm with everything else.
“This is still a unique environment. He is still a really young player and he’s doing brilliantly well and we love him to bits. We also have got to look after him a bit as well.
“We are really happy with Phil, we are really happy to have Phil. He is going to play a big part in this tournament, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”
Tuesday’s clash against Wales is the first time England have met a home nation at a World Cup – but they did face off at Euro 2016 as Daniel Sturridge’s last-gasp strike settled the game in England’s favour.
They would go on to be embarrassingly eliminated by Iceland in the round of 16, a result Wales – who went on to reach the semi-finals – were filmed celebrating.
Asked if England could use the clip as motivation, Southgate replied with a smile: “I couldn’t say… We are aware of some of that but I couldn’t say if we would use it or not…”
Southgate likened the upcoming game to the 0-0 draw against Scotland during the group stage of Euro 2020 last summer, with the neighbouring nations determined to get one over England.
“When we played Scotland, physically they found a level they hadn’t found before and couldn’t find in the game after,” he said.
“So that is the nature of this game. But you have to ride through that and make sure our quality counts and we are composed in our play. You have to match the spirit and display the quality with the ball that allows us to be ruthless.
“We have to make sure our emotional focus is on what we do well. I think our boys have got experience of these types of games. We have got to use the ball well, we’ve got to make sure we are thinking about how to break down a difficult defence. We are not sure what system they might play.
“There is a good chance that they could change, we will have to see, every team we have played has defended slightly differently against us to their normal because they recognise some of the threat we have got.
“We have to be prepared for all of that. Their obvious threat with Kieffer Moore or Gareth Bale or whichever individual they put in can change matches.”