There is always a tweak. The last time Gareth Southgate named an unchanged starting XI was for the World Cup semi-final three years ago and that is as much a consequence of the depth at the manager’s disposal as his fondness to tailor systems to match opponents.
Even now, almost five years into the job, there is an impression of Southgate being a top communicator rather than tactician but the evidence of the past month should quieten the few remaining dissenters. He has got all of the big calls right, from bringing fresh legs in to matching Germany with a three-man defence.
Tomorrow night’s primary selection dilemma is a familiar one: who will play on the right wing?
Three players have started there in five games, with Raheem Sterling occupying that flank for a not insignificant amount of his playing time, and this decision mayrest on how much of a threat Southgate considers Denmark’s Joakim Maehle to be. The Atalanta wing back’s tendency to cut in, on to his favoured right foot, has been a major asset for Kasper Hjulmand’s team – yielding two goals, an assist and 15 chances created.
If England view curtailing his impact as a key objective it could mean good news for Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. The 19-year-old did a fine job in negating the influence of Germany’s Robin Gosens eight days ago before being replaced by Jack Grealish, whose introduction saw Sterling swap sides.
While Saka’s direct running and fearlessness has won him plenty of admirers in the past fortnight, the biggest reason in favour of him being recalled tomorrow is that of all the options available to Southgate he is undoubtedly the most diligent off the ball.
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Phil Foden began the campaign heralded as one of the tournament’s potential stars but the Manchester City player has not entirely grasped the opportunity and his last appearance came in the draw with Scotland.
Jadon Sancho did well on the ball but lacked discipline without it in his first start against Ukraine on Saturday. He made more pressing movements (28) than any other player but that does not equate to clever pressing and the frequency with which Kyle Walker was left exploited in the first half may be cause for concern.
Saka on the other hand has operated in more defensive roles for club and country. He has trained in the past two days having missed the unsettlingly comfortable Ukraine route due to a minor knock picked up on Friday and, once deemed sufficiently fit to perform, seems the clear frontrunner for a starting spot in the biggest came of his fledgling career.