England are all set to kick off their 2018 World Cup campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.
The Group G clash will have a youthful look to it. The Three Lions have the third youngest squad at the tournament while Tunisia’s is the fourth youngest. For many of the players on show, it’s sink or swim time.
Gareth Southgate’s side are hoping to rid themselves of the doom and gloom normally accompanies their campaigns in major tournaments.
Tunisia do have enough about them to cause an upset but given England’s run of 10 games unbeaten, the signs are positives.
NO IDENTITY CRISIS
Several England fans will be haunted by a gnawing feeling that Tunisia are just the kind of team their side’s World Cup campaign could be derailed by, and at the first hurdle no less. Many believe the current crop are among the worst in living memory but what they lack in individual brilliance, they make up for in pace, energy and a level of cohesion which has been alien to a long line of their predecessors.
Perhaps what gives them the biggest edge over previous generations is something that should be fundamental to any team – an identity. For the first time in decades, England head into a major tournament with a set system, having regularly deployed a 3-5-2 formation which has produced good results.
Gareth Southgate has done well to communicate the demands of the system to the players with complete clarity which has in turn developed an identity for the young brigade, something the manager has alluded to.
“I feel there is more structure, everyone knows their jobs,” he said. “I guess there is a clearer identity.”
England supporters can take comfort in the knowledge that their side won’t be punting long balls towards Peter Crouch when faced with a bit of resistance.
TUNISIA EYE AN UPSET
At first glance, Belgium and England should make light work of Group G but Tunisia have steadily grown into the equation with some impressive displays in recent friendlies.
Having held Portugal to a 2-2 draw and only losing 1-0 to Spain while their players were fasting during Ramadan, Engand would do well to take Nabil Maloul’s side seriously.
“We are not here to take part,” Tunisian and Leicester City centre-back Yohan Benalouane has warned. “We are here to take over.”
The boost in quality since booking their ticket to Russia has come from a rather controversial recruitment process as they signed up a host of players with Tunisian heritage from other countries. French-born players Benalouane, Saif-Eddine Khaoui, Ellyes Skhiri and Hassen only played their first games for Tunisia in March.
With the new inclusions, they definitely have a bogey-team look about them and England are no strangers to an upset in major tournaments.
The Three Lions secured just one victory over the course of their World Cup campaigns in 2010 and 2014.
COMPETITION FOR PLACES
Manchester City midfielder Fabian Delph has revealed that the starting XI for the game against Tunisia is more or less decided.
“The team’s not guaranteed, there could be changes. But from the set-up that we’ve done, it’s pretty clear who’s going to be starting,” Delph said.
While it may be common knowledge for Southgate and those within the camp, a few positions still warrant debate.
John Stones and Kyle Walker appear to have cemented their places in the back three but it’s the third centre-back slot which hasn’t had a consistent occupant. Each of England’s last four friendlies have featured a different defender in the spot – Joe Gomez, Harry Maguire, Gary Cahill and James Tarkowski. Meanwhile, Phil Jones is also in line for the same role.
Meanwhile, Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier are in a straight shootout to start as the anchorman in midfield. Raheem Sterling’s sensational form this past season should guarantee him a starting role but even he will be looking over his shoulder following Marcus Rashford’s impressive recent displays.
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