Jordan Henderson is ready to fight Eric Dier for a World Cup starting spot – and will be hoping that duel goes the same way as their table tennis matches.
As manager Gareth Southgate prepares for Monday’s Group G opener against Tunisia in Volgograd, the choice of who will act as the Three Lions’ midfield ‘pivot’ is among his toughest decisions.
Henderson and Dier both played key roles in England’s qualification for the World Cup, but one of them looks set to miss out next week as the manager only has space for one holding midfielder.
“We’ve been kicking each other in training! Nah, I’m joking,” Liverpool captain Henderson said, smiling after the strapping on Dier’s thigh was pointed out.
“I think he’s OK. Yeah, he’s got strapping but I think he’s just had that little knock for a while, but I think he’s fine now.
“We get on well. I get on well with Eric. He’s a great lad, he’s a fantastic player.
“It’s not just me and him fighting for places, it’s the whole team.
“There’s some fantastic players within the squad and everybody wants to play, of course.
“But it is about the 23 at the end of the day and if you’re going to progress through the tournament you need everyone.”
Henderson has not spoken to Dier about Southgate’s comments regarding the defensive midfield role, but they are spending time together away from the field.
The pair are among those enjoying table tennis in their downtime, with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s social media post of his smiling Liverpool team-mate under the comment ‘who’s table tennis champ’ suggesting there is a standout player.
When the title of table tennis champion was put to the midfielder after training on Wednesday, Henderson said with a laugh: “Yeah, that sounds good!
“Me and Trent had a few games.
“Raheem (Sterling) likes it, Eric likes it as well, so there’s a few of us that (enjoy) big competition in there.”
That would seem to epitomise the team spirit within the camp and “togetherness” is something Henderson highlighted as important this time around.
The 27-year-old knows all too well what can happen when that camaraderie falters, having been part of the poor 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 campaigns.
“Well, we’ve got high expectations because we believe we have got good players,” Henderson said in an interview with talkSPORT and BBC Radio 5 Live.
“We believe we can do well in the competition, but it is up to us to go and show that on the pitch, keep working the way we have been and then you never know what can happen.
“It was a good session (on Wednesday). Not too much after the travelling yesterday but good to get out here, good to get to preparations started for the first game.”