World Cup

Sterling axed? England ‘let slip starting XI for Panama’ as notes snapped

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Raheem Sterling

Image credit: Eurosport

ByTom Adams
21/06/2018 at 10:10 | Updated 21/06/2018 at 10:28

England manager Gareth Southgate faces two big selection dilemmas ahead of their second game in Group G, against Panama on Sunday afternoon.

With Dele Alli missing training on Thursday with a thigh problem, Southgate has to work out how he reconfigures his midfield if the Tottenham man does indeed fail to recover for the match in Nizhy Novgorod.

And with Raheem Sterling struggling in the 2-1 win over Tunisia which opened England’s World Cup campaign, Southgate has to decide whether he takes the Manchester City star out of the firing line and replaces him with Marcus Rashford, who looked bright when coming off the bench in the opening match.

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Thankfully for those interested in England’s selection issues, a window appears to have opened into Southgate’s frame of mind thanks to some opportunistic photography at their latest training session in Repino.

The big reveal

The Daily Mail has the story that assistant boss Steve Holland’s notes were snapped at training, potentially revealing some critical information.

The paper reports:

Holland, who ironically is the driving force behind keeping Gareth Southgate’s line-ups a secret, was photographed carrying a sheet of paper that seemed to show the first XI with the reserves written underneath.

The notes clearly show Rashford’s name alongside that of Kane, who scored twice against Tunisia, with Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck the slated replacements for the forwards.

And what of Sterling? He appears to be considered as a back-up midfielder – but not in place of Alli, who is noted as needing a “medical”. In Alli’s place is Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who made a bright impression when he was introduced as a substitute against Tunisia.

Our view

If confirmed, both of these are sound decisions. Sterling looked well off his best in the Tunisia match, with one glaring miss in the first half summing up his evening, and Rashford was a more threatening and lively alternative when he came on. Who knows whether the off-field focus on Sterling has affected him but a record of two goals in 39 caps isn't up to standard for someone making an argument to start in a front two.

As for Loftus-Cheek, it's a big promotion for a player who performed off and on for Crystal Palace in their battle against the drop last season. Southgate could have taken a safer option and included Eric Dier or Fabian Delph, but caution is not in the England make-up at the moment and with a professed desire for two advanced players who can carry the ball forward with menace, Loftus-Cheek fits the bill if Alli doesn't make it.

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