England’s players know the starting line-up for Monday’s World Cup opener against Tunisia after manager Gareth Southgate showed his hand in training.
Anticipation and speculation is building as the Group G clash in Volgograd edges closer, with talk over the starting line-up sure to only heighten after Fabian Delph confirmed the team had been all but named.
England did their first fully-closed training session at Spartak Zelenogorsk on Saturday morning, when Southgate focused on tweaking the side for Monday’s match against the North Africans.
“Obviously none of you guys (in the media) were there today,” England midfielder Delph said.
“I do know the team, but he says I’m not allowed to tell you.
“But, yeah, we were working on specific things and the lads are ready to go.”
It was a slightly surprising opening gambit from Delph and one that naturally led to follow-up questions.
“We have an idea of the team,” the Manchester City title winner said.
“We have worked on various different systems with different personnel.
“The team is not guaranteed to be the 11 players that we think it might be.
“It could be changes, but from the set-up we’ve done it’s pretty clear to see who is probably going to be starting.”
Asked when Southgate told the players, Delph claimed he was “not sure” before saying with a smile and a laugh: “I did remember, but I’ve just forgotten now! Sorry.”
It was reported this week that Southgate would opt to put Raheem Sterling in support of Harry Kane, with Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and Ashley Young other notable inclusions.
That leaked line-up would also mean Delph started his first major tournament on the bench.
“Really?” he exclaimed with a smile when asked about that team.
“I don’t have any disappointment, ever. I’m quite a positive person. I live in the present, take each day as it comes.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be in this squad with this group of young players. I’m probably one of the oldest now and hadn’t been in the squad for quite a long time
“I’m excited about the challenge ahead and whenever I’m needed I’ll give nothing less than 100 per cent. It might be on Monday, it might not be.”
Delph is confident that naming the team early will not cause any fractures within the group, nor does he think it will becoming public knowledge.
“I don’t think it’ll leak out – you tried but I never leaked it,” the Yorkshireman said with a chuckle.
“I think for certain players they would like to know, so they can get themselves prepared.
“But whether you’re selected on the day of the game or the day before, I think it’s all the same thing.
“As long as your mindset is clear, you know what you need to do, you understand the game plan and what your role is, you’re pretty clear in what you need to do.”
And Delph is as clear about his priorities as his place in the side, with wife Natalie due to give birth to the couple’s third child on June 30.
“A little bit (difficult being out here),” Delph said. “But obviously it’s there, and it’s very exciting, if I’m being honest.
“It’s been a fantastic year for me on a personal level and to be expecting our third child is absolutely amazing.
“I’m waiting on the text to say, ‘get back home’ but so far she’s doing fine.”
Children are the main reason why none of Delph’s friends or family will be in Russia this summer, although the midfielder did say that “obviously there’s concerns” about racism “because it’s happened in the past”.
Such issues are behind Danny Rose’s loved ones staying at home – an admission that made widespread headlines, albeit nowhere near as much as his frank interview about depression.
“No, I wasn’t aware,” fellow Leeds academy graduate Delph said.
“Rosey is my best mate, I’ve known him since I was 10 years old, so we are very close.
“I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but we have spoken since and he’s a strong guy mentally, he’s got great people around him so I’m sure he will be fine going forwards.”