Gareth Southgate will be delighted at the performances of his younger players, with Marcus Rashford, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Trent Alexander-Arnold all catching the eye
Southgate may edge towards Henderson
Gareth Southgate had admitted on the eve of the Costa Rica game that he expects to have to choose between his most experienced defensive midfielders in Russia and, given this team’s mindset is to attack, he may now be edging towards Jordan Henderson in the role against England’s first opponents in the group stage, Tunisia. The Liverpool midfielder captained the team here, a bustling presence and organiser, with his delivery more forward thinking than that with which Eric Dier is credited. A converted No 8 playing as that midfield pivot may leave England rather open – Dier’s instincts are that of a centre-back – but they set an upbeat tone and give the whole group a more offensive feel.
Rashford will travel to Russia rejuvenated
For all that Marcus Rashford’s cameos had stacked up at Manchester United, his campaign had endured difficult spells. José Mourinho’s criticisms after a defeat at Brighton last month would have stung. Yet on his 62nd game for club and country this term, here was evidence the youngster will travel to his first World Cup confident and at ease. His third international goal was scored with the ball swerving viciously over Keylor Navas from 25 yards. The 20-year-old ran eagerly at Kendall Waston and Christian Gamboa and looked at ease in a role likely to be occupied by Raheem Sterling in Volgograd, though this will have given Southgate food for thought. Rashford had played only 21 minutes at Euro 2016, which felt a waste. He may be a potent weapon this time round.
But what of Jamie Vardy?
The Leicester City forward was supposed to be the side’s Plan B though, in truth, his forte is galloping into space behind centre-halves rather than unpicking massed defence. Navas denied him from close range here as Costa Rica struggled to clear a set-play, but there were times when Vardy was starved of the ball and looked rather lost amid the bodies. The suspicion lingers he might be best suited to springing from the bench when England actually boast a narrow lead and the onus is on the opposition to press forward in search of an equaliser. Few will live with the raw pace on the counter of a player who still enjoys his can of Red Bull at breakfast.
Loftus-Cheek looks the part
Southgate’s instinct will be to turn to Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard in Russia but Ruben Loftus-Cheek, four caps into his career at this level, has already demonstrated that he belongs. His languid trot when out of possession can be deceptive. When on the ball he offers muscular forward propulsion, and his link-up play with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the flank and strikers further up the pitch unnerved Costa Rica, carrying the form he demonstrated at Crystal Palace over the season’s last six weeks into England’s World Cup preparations. He still needs to infiltrate the penalty area more regularly – his tally of two goals for Palace felt meagre for a player of his talent, and his rivals carry more of a threat – but Loftus-Cheek is a considerable asset.
So, are England ready to take on the world?
Their preparations could not really have gone smoother. There have been no untimely injuries – Harry Maguire gave a thumbs up to the bench just before the hour after appearing to hurt his groin, while Kieran Trippier felt a twinge in his hamstring – no signs of fatigue in an energetic and youthful squad, and no fear in their play. It is still refreshing to see a team crammed with so much pace and as much conviction confront the major tournament ahead. They are comfortable in their system of play and, while there will always be a certain vulnerability at the back in a group who have been asked to take risks (John Stones is still prone to the odd slack pass), it is still thrilling to see even fringe players such as Fabian Delph or the debutant Alexander-Arnold look so at ease.
source: The Guardian