Southgate urged to start two Arsenal stars and drop Sterling as Joe Cole names ideal England XI

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

Joe Cole reckons Gareth Southgate should drop Raheem Sterling for Bukayo Saka for England’s opener against Iran, as the former Chelsea forward named his ideal starting XI for England at the World Cup.

Sterling was the star of the Euros for England and has been a consistent threat under Southgate, but his form since his summer move to Stamford Bridge has been patchy at best.

Saka meanwhile has thrived for table-toppers Arsenal and Cole believes he should be starting alongside Harry Kane and Phil Foden in attack for England, while a fellow Gunners star should get the nod in defence.

Cole told William Hill: “As much as I love Raheem [Sterling], he’s not in form. [Bukayo] Saka’s playing for the team at the top of the league, and the same could be said with [James] Maddison.

“It will evolve as the tournament goes on. Five substitutions as well – it’s a game of 16 players effectively. I’ll go [Jordan] Pickford in goal, centre halves I’ll go [John] Stones and [Ben] White in the group stage. [Kieran] Trippier right back, [Luke] Shaw left back. Then I’d play a midfield of Declan [Rice], [Jude] Bellingham and Mason [Mount] – Declan holding then the two 10s given licence to go forward.

“Then I’d play Harry Kane up top obviously, then probably start with Phil Foden on the right, then Saka or Sterling on the left. There are four players who are going to play regularly – Pickford, Stones, Declan Rice, then Harry Kane. You only take Kane off when the game’s done. That will be a problem for the other strikers because they know they’re going there to play second fiddle. Everywhere else is up for grabs.

“I hate it when people say Gareth [Southgate] doesn’t know what he’s doing – he’s the most successful England manager since Alf Ramsey, that’s a fact. He’s got all the information and he can see how they’re training. So, let’s all get behind Gareth.”

Cole backed Southgate’s decision to take Maddison, who couldn’t be ignored due to his excellent form for Leicester this season.

He said: “The big one for me was [James] Maddison. Form wise and quality wise he should be playing, but also because of his personality – he’s an England player. He won’t shirk the responsibilities; he’ll get on the ball.

“There will be times later in the tournament when the game might be in the balance and you need to be brave and accept the ball as a midfield player and he will do that. You can play number 10s deeper now and we need to set the tempo of our games. I’m so happy he’s in.”

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