By Neil Leverett and Niall Clarke
- Britwatch Football team pick their preferred starting XI versus Tunisia on Monday evening
- Comment below on whether you agree or disagree with our selection
VOLGOGRAD, RUSSIA – Ahead of the Three Lions’ opening game against Tunisia on Monday, the Britwatch team have put their managerial caps on to pick their England starting XI to open their World Cup campaign
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At a glance
Niall: Why change a winning formula? It is tempting to move to the back four to get all the creative players in the side, but the fact is the back three have made England look for more solid than with a back four.
With a back three there is a need for two wing backs to offer width going forward and coming back. I have also opted to have a pivot in midfield to help play out from the back and offer the defence some support when Tunisia counter.
This is quite an ambitious formation on the whole with three attacking players and an advanced midfielder, but this will be key against a side that will opt to plant men behind the ball. England will need all the creativity they can get to break Tunisia down because it can never be taken for granted.
Here is England’s expected starting XI on Monday night:
Focus on youth over experience
I have said it a few times in the lead up to the World Cup, but the point remains key for this World Cup for me. This should not be about winning the tournament, but rather prepping for future tournaments.
Right now, barring some miracle or extreme fortune, England do not have enough quality to go all the way in Russia. They may surprise a few and do it, but the chances are they will exit the competition during the knockout stages no matter who plays.
There is hope for the future though with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold looking like excellent prospects alongside Ryan Sessegnon and Phil Foden who are not in the squad. Tunisia are not a side to be underestimated, but I think they are the sort of opposition you can take some chances with the line-up and play the younger players to give them tournament experience. We have seen this work for Germany when they played a young side in 2010 and then in the Euro’s two years later, they went on to win the title in 2014.
So I would start both Rashford and Alexander-Arnold to get them gelled into the team and give them experience of the biggest tournament in from the off. Especially in Rashford’s case, he could be key in later games. I would also give Harry Maguire and John Stones the nod at centre-back in hope they can build a good partnership for the future.
Henderson and Alli in midfield
I have picked Jordan Henderson over Eric Dier in the holding midfield position so the Liverpool man can offer more creativity from deep. Henderson will play as a pivot in midfield to set England on the way going forward and play incisive passes from a deep position. He will not be as stable as Dier defensively, but he will still offer some protection on the counter and will give England some leadership.
Dele Alli will be one of the main creators going forward and look at him to link up well with Harry Kane as England look to cut through the Tunisian defence. The Spurs midfielder also has goals in him and can get in the area on the end of crosses or one-two passes with Kane.
In a nutshell
This is a very attacking side with four players being in advanced positions, but this is what England could need against Tunisia.
The back three will offer enough protection defensively as there will not be that much of a threat from the opponents going forward, and with a front three of Rashford, Kane and Sterling you have plenty of goals in there too.
Against better teams such as Belgium, a more conservative approach will be necessary and that is where players such as Dier will come in handy, but for this one I believe more creativity and attacking threats is key.
It is not likely Gareth Southgate will agree and it will be a slightly more cautious side that takes to the field on Monday, but that is why I do my football managing on a computer and not on a pitch.
Niall’s XI to face Tunisia:
Emphasis on attack in opener
Neil: I have to say off the bat, aside from the defence – where both Gary Cahill and Phil Jones will hopefully be restricted to bare minutes this summer – there are a number of combinations in both midfield and attack that could work across the tournament. But for the opening game, our strengths are without a shadow of a doubt in offense, and that is how we are set to about things to being the World Cup.
I would however tweak a few things. I have no problem with Henderson starting, but feel Dier offers more in both defence and from a creativity point of view. My biggest change would be to start Alli from the bench and play the wildcard in Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Alli has not had a impressive warm-up campaign in my book and gave away the ball multiple times off the bench against Costa Rica. The Crystal Palace man for me has a greater composure about his play and I feel has a killer pass in him to unlock the best of defences.
From a wing-back position, Ashley Young is set to play but personally I would start Danny Rose as an out-and-out left-footed player. Though the Spurs man has struggled with injury, England were more fluid against Los Ticos at Elland Road and would arguably be a better threat in attack. I do however, see Young as giving a better balance to the back three so again I have no real qualms about the left defensive role.
Similarly on the opposite flank, Alexander-Arnold would be pushing for a start, but with both he and Trippier adept at corner-kick delivery overall distribution and speed in equal measure, I would just go for the Tottenham man again, with the Liverpudlian with just the one cap under his belt. I firmly believe however, he is another English ‘X’ factor and could come on late in a game if necessary and push forward as a winger also.
Passing and movement key to win
With a back three of Kyle Walker, Stones and Maguire, the positioning of both Sterling and Jesse Lingard will be key and although Rashford is nursing a slight issue with his knee, if he was fully fit I’d go with the United man latter over the former, for the simple reason he is being let off the leash under Southgate after a season of frustration under Jose Mourinho, and is set to terrify in Russia.
With both he and Raheem Sterling either side of Kane, Tunisia will be hard-pressed to keep the roaming trio out of the attack, as the Three Lions in term push up and flood the midfield to close the gaps – which the African side may struggle to contain.
It is then down the Kane to score his first major tournament goal on the global stage. It is easy enough to say, but all the striker needs is a slight rub of the green and he’ll be off and running and could be hard to stop if he gets going. We can only hope.
Neil’s XI to face Tunisia:
England open their World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday June 18th at 7pm BST
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