Gareth Southgate has insisted he “loves” Phil Foden ahead of England’s final Group B game against Wales and claimed the Manchester City star has a big part to play in the World Cup.
Foden was left on the substitutes’ bench for the draw against the United States, which has put pressure on Southgate to start him on Tuesday night.
Southgate dismissed any suggestion that he has an issue with Foden by telling ITV: “We love Phil, he is a super player. He was into the first game, we decided not to put him into the second. But he is going to play an important part in this tournament for us, there is no question about that.
“We haven’t got any issue with Phil. In September he started both games for us and we put him into the game versus Iran. We decided to stick with that team and we felt the changes required something a little different for the USA
“But we are intending to be here as long as we can. And he is a super player and we think the world of him. And he is going to play a big part.
“He can play off either wing. He can play as a false nine. He can play behind a striker, he doesn’t do that as often for his club. He works hard for the team and, of course, he has fabulous technical ability.”
'We will always give the players the freedom to express themselves'
Southgate has once again faced accusations of being too cautious in his approach, but the England manager responded by saying: “We were 22 games unbeaten over the previous 18 months and that never stopped. I’ve just got to focus on preparing the team as well as I can. Keeping the team calm through all the noise that happens in a tournament.
“We will always give the players the freedom to express themselves. If you speak to any of them, then they would articulate that. But, of course, you play opponents who stop you doing that.
“Our experience of tournaments has been helpful. The players know we are on track. We are in a good position to qualify, a good position to win the group and that’s got to be our aim over the next few days.”
Asked if he is enjoying the World Cup so far, Southgate added: “Yes, absolutely. It is an amazing challenge and a great life experience. It is my fourth World Cup as a player and a coach. It is not only our games that are amazing occasions, but you are watching all the other games and it reminds you this is the place that any player or coach wants to be.”
Wales must win to stand any chance of qualifying for the last 16 after their defeat to Iran and Southgate said: “We are going to play a team who are wounded. Who are going to have very high motivation to beat us.
“We’ve got to be tactically correct and find our best level. We’ve got to make sure we are composed but also that we play with a real attacking vigour.”