Gareth Southgate is considering dropping Raheem Sterling against Panama, judging by a note spotted at England training.
Preparations are under way for Sunday’s game in Nizhny Novgorod as the Three Lions look to build on their last-gasp 2-1 win against Tunisia and stride towards the World Cup knockout phase.
England began fully focusing on the Group G clash with Panama on Thursday, when attention on manager Southgate after dislocating a shoulder swiftly switched to his assistant.
Steve Holland was pictured holding a note that showed the side are preparing to play in 3-5-2 formation again this Sunday, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield instead of the injured Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford playing in the front two alongside captain Harry Kane.
The sheet suggested Sterling would be the fall guy in attack.
The 23-year-old, without an England goal since October 2015, has had to put up with a lot in the build-up to Russia and was replaced by Rashford after 68 minutes in Volgograd.
The Football Association declined to comment on the significance, or otherwise, of the picture that comes just days after they had thicker material put around the perimeter fencing of their Spartak Zelenogorsk training ground to increase privacy.
England had also already announced plans to scrap open training on Friday in order to prepare behind closed doors, with Trent Alexander-Arnold – listed as back-up right-back to Kieran Trippier – conceding the note could potentially give Panama unwelcome insight.
“I suppose if we knew how the opposition was going to play we could plan for it,” the 19-year-old said at the team’s media centre in Repino.
“We’re just trying to focus on ourselves.”
Asked if Southgate asks players to keep the team to themselves, Alexander-Arnold said: “No, but it’s just general knowledge to do that.
“You don’t want the opposition finding out who is playing and who’s not until they’re supposed to, essentially.
“Obviously, you probably want to tell your family and friends but you try to keep it under wraps as much as you possibly can.”
This would be the second time that the line-up has been leaked well in advance.
Southgate’s starting line-up for Tunisia was revealed four days early after information from training was made public, but Alexander-Arnold was coy when asked if the players had a similar idea from training already.
“Not necessarily, no,” the Liverpool teenager said. “We haven’t been directly told who is starting and who isn’t.
“All positions are still up for grabs, really. Until the manager actually names the team it doesn’t matter what comes out or leaked or anything.
“The lads don’t really focus on things like that until it’s come out of the manager’s mouth. They’re the only words that really matter to us
“We’re trying not to get caught up in articles and things like that. Until the manager names the team everyone is still fighting for their position.”
Alli would seem the only player sure to miss out against Panama, having picked up a slight thigh strain against Tunisia.
The attacking midfielder – incorrectly spelled as ‘Ali’ on assistant Holland’s note – was the only absentee from training on Thursday, when Southgate took the session despite the discomfort of a dislocated shoulder.
The Three Lions boss took a tumble while running near England’s World Cup camp in Repino on Wednesday’s recovery day and was treated in a nearby hospital.
There was no sign of the black sling he had been pictured wearing on Wednesday and Southgate led the session as normal, flanked by Holland.
Southgate appeared in good spirits and made little concession to his injury, keeping his right arm close to his body, but otherwise showing no outward signs of pain.