Latest NewsWorld

Should Southgate stick or twist against Belgium?

By June 25, 2018No Comments

Gareth Southgate will send his buoyant England side into a decisive Group G battle with Belgium facing a welcome selection dilemma.

Skipper Harry Kane and his team-mates are brimming with confidence after the 6-1 demolition of Panama which booked their place in the last 16, but Southgate now has to decide how best to manage his resources for what may lie ahead.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the choices he faces with top spot up for grabs against the team which set off as favourites to win the group.

Stick with strongest line-up

There is an argument that Southgate should simply play the strongest team available to him in a bid to continue the momentum which has taken them through their opening two fixtures.

The growing cohesion which was in evidence against an admittedly limited and over-physical Panama team was an illustration of how things are starting to gel for England, and breaking that continuity unnecessarily could prove counter-productive.

Kane in particular has good reason to support a status quo approach with his sights set firmly on the Golden Boot and is already on record saying he does not want to be rested, and it might take all Southgate’s powers of persuasion to convince him he needs to put his feet up for a few days and let somebody else spearhead the attack.

Rest players for the knockout stage

Posted by Jesse Lingard on Sunday, June 24, 2018

The prevailing conditions in both Volgograd and Nizhny Novgorod had proved testing even for elite athletes, and taking bumps and bruises into account, there is a case for some players to sit out temporarily.

Midfielder Jesse Lingard suffered some brutal treatment at the hands of Panama and no doubt emerged with a series of souvenirs. Dele Alli missed the second game of the campaign with a minor thigh injury and if there is no urgent need to risk further damage, he could once again be kept in reserve.

However, with Belgium boss Roberto Martinez having hinted he will rest players against England, there could be an opportunity for Southgate to do the same if he feels the need.

His keepers in particular have little senior international football under their belts and the temptation to hand Jack Butland or Nick Pope a taste of the action in case anything happens to number one Jordan Pickford could prove inviting, while full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold might also benefit from being blooded on the big stage.

Only make a decision when the outcome of other groups is known

Should Southgate stick or twist against Belgium? PLZ Soccer
Colombia’s Radamel Falcao celebrates after scoring against Poland (Frank Augstein/AP)

England and Belgium are in the privileged position of taking to the field knowing how the rest of the last 16 has shaped up.

They will not only know who their last 16 opponents would be but would also be able to see what the quarter-finals might have in store, with a potential last-eight encounter with Brazil or Germany one that both England and Belgium may be keen to avoid.

Whether Southgate would want to keep his players in suspense for so long though is debatable.