Preparations are under way for Sunday’s game in Nizhny Novgorod as the Three Lions look to build on their last-gasp 2-1 win against Tunisia and stride towards the World Cup knockout phase.
England began fully focusing on the Group G clash with Panama on Thursday, when attention on manager Southgate after dislocating a shoulder swiftly switched to his assistant.
Steve Holland was pictured holding a note that showed the side are preparing to play in 3-5-2 formation again this Sunday, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield instead of the injured Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford playing in the front two alongside captain Harry Kane.
The sheet suggested Sterling would be the fall guy in attack.
The 23-year-old, without an England goal since October 2015, has had to put up with a lot in the build-up to Russia and was replaced by Rashford after 68 minutes in Volgograd.
The Football Association declined to comment on the significance, or otherwise, of the picture that comes just days after they had thicker material put around the perimeter fencing of their Spartak Zelenogorsk training ground to increase privacy.
England had also already announced plans to scrap open training on Friday in order to prepare behind closed doors, with Trent Alexander-Arnold – listed as back-up right-back to Kieran Trippier – conceding the note could potentially give Panama unwelcome insight.
“I suppose if we knew how the opposition was going to play we could plan for it,” the 19-year-old said at the team’s media centre in Repino.
“We’re just trying to focus on ourselves.”
Asked if Southgate asks players to keep the team to themselves, Alexander-Arnold said: “No, but it’s just general knowledge to do that.
“You don’t want the opposition finding out who is playing and who’s not until they’re supposed to, essentially.
“Obviously, you probably want to tell your family and friends but you try to keep it under wraps as much as you possibly can.”
This would be the second time that the line-up has been leaked well in advance.
Southgate’s starting line-up for Tunisia was revealed four days early after information from training was made public, but Alexander-Arnold was coy when asked if the players had a similar idea from training already.
“Not necessarily, no,” the Liverpool teenager said. “We haven’t been directly told who is starting and who isn’t.
“All positions are still up for grabs, really. Until the manager actually names the team it doesn’t matter what comes out or leaked or anything.
“The lads don’t really focus on things like that until it’s come out of the manager’s mouth. They’re the only words that really matter to us
“We’re trying not to get caught up in articles and things like that. Until the manager names the team everyone is still fighting for their position.”
Alli would seem the only player sure to miss out against Panama, having picked up a slight thigh strain against Tunisia.
The attacking midfielder – incorrectly spelled as ‘Ali’ on assistant Holland’s note – was the only absentee from training on Thursday, when Southgate took the session despite the discomfort of a dislocated shoulder.
The Three Lions boss took a tumble while running near England’s World Cup camp in Repino on Wednesday’s recovery day and was treated in a nearby hospital.
There was no sign of the black sling he had been pictured wearing on Wednesday and Southgate led the session as normal, flanked by Holland.
Southgate appeared in good spirits and made little concession to his injury, keeping his right arm close to his body, but otherwise showing no outward signs of pain.
The defending champions could be on the brink of elimination should they fail to gain all three points against the Swedes, following their shock Group F-opening defeat against Mexico.
Joachim Low’s side have faced heavy criticism after going down 1-0 last Sunday, in what was a scoreline that actually flattered the Germans.
For Sweden, after a 1-0 victory over South Korea first-up, the Scandinavian outfit go into this one full of confidence.
Here, we look at the key talking points ahead of the clash.
Can Germany put reports of dressing room disharmony to bed?
Senior figures in the Germany camp, Thomas Muller and team manger Oliver Bierhoff, have played down speculation that all is not well within the group.
You perhaps have to take their word for it given the country’s most recent exploits in international football but there is no doubt a lacklustre build-up to the World Cup and that opening loss has really turned up the heat and indeed pressure.
The high temperatures Germany will face in Sochi on Saturday should only serve to up that ante.
Low and his coaching team face a difficult task to galvanise a collection of big personalities. Given how quickly things can go off the rail in tournament play, the Germany boss will need to use all his experience and know-how to boost morale in the ranks.
But, to reassert Germany’s famed team unity isn’t just as easy as saying it and get this campaign back on track will boil down to several factors. Worryingly, the 2014 winners’ looked lethargic and devoid of structure, efficiency and control against a rampant Mexico side that had more pace, power and desire.
It is not necessarily as easy as flicking the switch and hoping everything comes together for this one. Ultimately, the likes of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira have to move up a gear, sparking Mesut Ozil into life, Joshua Kimmich needs to improve defensively and Ilkay Gundogan deserves a chance in the middle of the park.
Low has decisions to make and will have had some harsh words to say to a dressing room lacking in confidence, feeling the pressure of their World Cup defence being on the line.
More of the same from Sweden is required
There are no thrills or indeed spills about the Blue-Yellows.
Janne Andersson, a coach pragmatic enough in playing to his team’s limitations and maximising the strengths of Sweden which include work-rate, intensity and their ability to stick to a rigid structure and frustrate teams, worked superbly against Korea.
Sweden wore down their opening opponents with self discipline and protected Andreas Granqvist’s second-half penalty winner with aplomb, restricting the Koreans to precisely zero shots on target.
A win here would seal Sweden’s path through to round two and once again you would feel they would back themselves to shut-up shop and frustrate Germany, like Mexico did.
It is certainly time to seize the moment and pounce on the Germans’ venerability.
Their favoured approach of a high-press, boosted by the fact they are a team with legs and generally powerful in the air, will be important to shut off Germany’s strong spine and make life uncomfortable early on for Marco Reus, should the Borussia Dortmund man get the nod in an attacking midfield role.
Sweden’s rather standard but effective 4-4-2 system matches up pretty well against Germany’s 4-2-3-1, and although Low’s men obviously have more talent and still deserve, just about, to be classed as favourites here, Sweden should not be concerned about allowing their illustrious opponents more possession and the chance to play.
Finding the feet of wide men Emil Forsberg and Viktor Claesson will also prove crucial to ensure the Swedes have an out ball and break from anticipated territorial pressure.
A real balancing act for the Germans
Germany face a difficult equation to tip the scales in their favour with so much on the line.
It is crucial how well Low’s men respond to the experienced manager’s work on the training ground this week, with rumours the nation’s base in Vatutinki has resembled a boarding school and restricted the players’ freedom.
The 58-year-old is a man who sticks to his principles, is stubborn in his mannerisms and dislikes wholesale change. With Gundogan and Reus set to come in, that should be his lot when it comes to alterations and are obvious, if not moves of tactical ingenuity.
Germany’s high-press and adaptation of high full-backs cost them dearly against Mexico, as their midfield was ruthlessly overrun. That, in turn, proceeded to put pressure on a usually well-oiled backline, with Mats Hummels, in particular, struggling in possession and when runners were driving at him.
However, don’t expect Germany to change too much tactically and stick to the same principles that have served them so well over the years.
The Socceroos went close to pulling off a shock victory over Denmark in Group C of the World Cup in Samara on Thursday before settling for a 1-1 draw, with a Mile Jedinak first-half penalty cancelling out a stunning Christian Eriksen opener.
Australia more than matched the higher-ranked Danes, but could not find the killer punch to clinch that much-needed victory.
Here are our player ratings for the Aussies:
Mat Ryan – 8: Powerless to stop Eriksen’s thunderbolt but comfortably dealt with any other threats during the game, coolly handled an awkward moment with a potential own goal from Sainsbury
Mark Milligan – 7: Solid effort at the back, rarely troubled, could have been at fault for Eriksen’s goal but in truth few defences would have prevented that wonder-strike
Trent Sainsbury – 7: Saved by Ryan from an embarrassing own goal, but composed apart from that showing good pace to get back and clean up Jorgensen’s breaks on more than one occasion
Josh Risdon – 8: An assured performance and found Nabbout with some searching balls, one superb tackle to dispossess Eriksen with ease
Aziz Behich – 9 : Got forward with some searing runs down the left and a tidy afternoon at the back forming a solid back four with Risdon, Milligan and Sainsbury, created some of the Socceroos most dangerous moments bursting forward
Mile Jedinak – 7: Didn’t do much before the penalty but put it away comfortably, cool and calm cleaning up at the back, kept the Australian defence well organised all day
Aaron Mooy – 8: Made one superb dis-possession on Schone, kept the Australian midfield ticking over, one rocket from outside the box went just past the right post
Mathew Leckie – 9: Superb ninety-minute effort, free header early on but couldn’t find the target. Brilliant work around the box to set-up a chance for Kruse, got the header to win the penalty
Robbie Kruse – 8: Got more involved in the first five minutes than the entire game against France, roamed on both flanks trying to create something. Substituted on 67 minutes for Arzani.
Tom Rogic – 8: Pulled a chance wide early on, but kept fighting hard through the middle, a long-range shot tested Schmeichel in the second half.
Andrew Nabbout – 7: Held the ball up well for Rogic and kept the Danish defence honest all day with his tireless running. Dislocated shoulder in 73rd minute saw his afternoon finish painfully.
Daniel Arzani – 8: Came on for Kruse after 67 minutes with the hope of sparking something in the final third, bright and dangerous with every touch, constantly probed the Danish defence who soon doubled up on him, real talent for the future.
Tomi Juric – 7: Onfor the injured Nabbout after 73 minutes, made some good runs but didn’t get the service to find the winner, got in Leckie’s way to spoil a late chance
Jackson Irvine – 5: Strange substitution, surprisingly brought on instead of Tim Cahill with ten minutes left, won a free kick on half way.