ST PETERSBURG: A thigh strain which could keep Dele Alli out of England’s remaining two group games at the World Cup may offer manager Gareth Southgate the opportunity to keep faith with Raheem Sterling.
The Manchester City forward has not scored a goal for England for three years since finding the net against Estonia in October 2015. He missed a good early chance in Monday’s 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd.
England snatched victory with a stoppage-time second goal for captain Harry Kane and cannot afford to be as profligate against Panama on Sunday in Nizhny Novgorod and then Belgium next Thursday in Kaliningrad.
England used Sterling against Tunisia as an up-front attacking partner for Kane but he has often proved more dangerous for City as an attacking winger. England stepped up the threat level in the closing 20 minutes against Tunisia after Sterling had been replaced by Marcus Rashford, a more orthodox central striker.
Southgate was defensive about Sterling after the game, saying: “I was pleased with the performance he gave, with his movement and his touch. There were a lot of fouls in the game and a lot of them were on him. That brought us more pressure because we were able to get more set plays into their penalty box.”
England’s manager knows that dropping Sterling after one game could upset the 23-year-old’s fragile confidence. Alli’s injury, which forced the Tottenham forward’s own substitution against Tunisia, could offer a convenient solution.
Southgate will consider starting with Rashford, switching Sterling out to a more comfortable role on the right wing and move Jesse Lingard into’s Alli’s ‘inside forward’ slot.
Alternatives for Alli, however Southgate may decide to resolve the Sterling dilemma, include starting with Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Eric Dier further back alongside Jordan Henderson. Southgate also has Fabian Delph in his squad but the Manchester City midfielder has other issues on his mind: he is due to fly back to England at any moment for the birth of his child.