Gareth Southgate has cautioned against heaping pressure on Phil Foden and warned it would be a risk to pin England’s hopes of winning the World Cup on one player.
Southgate, who does not want to rest Harry Kane against Wales on Tuesday night, was accused of wasting Foden’s talent after not using him in England’s 0-0 draw with the USA. He has fired back at his critics by insisting he loves the Manchester City player. At the same time the head coach is wary of overhyping the 22-year-old, even though he is considering starting him when his side look to win Group B by beating Wales.
“He’s a great option for us in two or three different positions and he will have a big impact in games,” Southgate said. “But also we have to be careful because we are putting a lot of pressure on him now. We’re a team and we need all of the players and they can all play a part but not any one of them is the reason we will win or lose.
“We need to make sure we are not building Phil into a situation where, if he steps on the pitch, this is becoming really difficult for him because the level of expectation is beyond a young guy who is still establishing himself internationally in a different environment from his club where you’re comfortable with all the players you play with. We love him to bits. We also have got to look after him a bit as well.”
Foden is expected to play in a wide role if he starts – possibly in place of Bukayo Saka on the right. There is a possibility Southgate switches to a back three if Kyle Walker is included . Foden, who is pushing to get the nod over Jack Grealish for a starting spot, does not play through the middle for City.
“Sometimes the discussion around just plopping him in as a 10 in every game isn’t realistic because in a game like the other night you have to have the ball and there are defensive responsibilities that he doesn’t have to do at his club,” Southgate said. “From the wide area it’s different. He’s got defensive responsibility but the role is different. In the 10 you have to cover a lot more ground and be a lot more aware of the spaces without the ball. “If that bit of pressure isn’t right, then they are through you and into your backline. That is why we didn’t put him in as a 10 the other night. There are games where there isn’t that same tactical challenge in midfield. That might be the slot he can go and express himself. But his club don’t do that, so there must be a reason for that.”
England will be at risk of going out if they lose by four goals to Wales, who are on the brink of elimination. Southgate does not want to rotate too heavily after naming an unchanged lineup against Iran and the USA. He is set to freshen up his midfield by starting Jordan Henderson instead of Jude Bellingham, and Marcus Rashford hopes to replace Raheem Sterling on the left. But he does not want to omit Kane, even though he said the captain felt some discomfort in his right foot against the USA.
“We haven’t qualified yet,” Southgate said. “There has to be a balance of freshness – the two games have taken a lot out of the players – but also stability. If you make lots of changes you can lose a bit of rhythm as well.”
Southgate must decide whether to give minutes to Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips after the City duo’s return from injury. He is confident they would not be short of sharpness in any knockout games.
“They are in with the group in training,” Southgate said. “They are able to adapt more and more to be ready for a game. Each couple of days that passes is better for them because they’re getting more football.”
England (4-3-3, probable) Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier; Rice, Henderson, Mount; Foden, Kane, Rashford. Doubt White (illness).
Southgate was asked whether he thought about using Trent Alexander-Arnold as an attacking substitute against the USA. The Liverpool right-back is yet to feature in Qatar, with Kieran Trippier preferred while Walker builds his fitness after groin surgery. An option against Wales would be to rest Luke Shaw, move Trippier to the left and start Walker.
Southgate said of Alexander-Arnold: “He definitely could do it against a team that sits back. But that’s not how I saw the game against the States. I don’t think they sat back at all. I think they were aggressive and athletic in their pressure. But he has some great quality with the ball and can do that, but Tripps has great quality as well.”
England trained in hot conditions at their base in Al Wakrah. Only Ben White was absent through illness. James Maddison will be in the matchday squad for the first time after a knee injury.