England take on Senegal in the World Cup last 16 at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday; Sky Sports News senior reporter Rob Dorsett expects Gareth Southgate to continue with a 4-3-3 formation but in terms of personnel and his best XI, the boss has a lot to think about
Sunday 4 December 2022 19:58, UK
Sky Sports News' Rob Dorsett discusses the key selection dilemmas facing England manager Gareth Southgate ahead of Sunday's World Cup last-16 tie with Senegal and what to expect from the African champions...
Less than a fortnight before this winner-takes-all match against Senegal, Gareth Southgate selected what he felt was his strongest England XI against Iran.
We should remember that England's manager was always going to start the World Cup with what he thinks is his best team.
The key question is - what, if anything, has happened in the last three matches to change his mind?
Sky Sports News understands Saka is set to start on Sunday night, so the crucial follow-up questions are - which of Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden are going to drop out of the line-up, or will indeed Raheem Sterling return to the side, too?
The bulk of the side will no doubt remain unchanged. As, I expect, will the formation - 4-3-3 has worked well for England in the tournament so far, allowing them an extra man in midfield, so I would expect that to remain constant.
The back four is likely to be the same, though it's a toss-up between Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier at right-back. Walker could well win that battle - his exceptional pace is a characteristic that Southgate has always valued, though without Trippier in the team, England lose some expertise with set pieces.
Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham are certain picks in the midfield, and Jordan Henderson could well get the nod ahead of Mason Mount, because of his extra experience and stabilising presence.
We know Harry Kane will lead the line for England, even though he is yet to score in this World Cup. The captain is not playing at full pace, but he insisted in the pre-match news conference he is fully fit and feeling great.
And his involvement is still very valuable: three assists match the most any Englishman has managed at a World Cup since David Beckham more than two decades ago.
So the biggest areas of contention surround England's wide attacking positions, which have been the subject of much debate since the win over Wales. And, in truth, long before that game too.
Expect Jack Grealish to remain as England's super-sub, and so it's a question of 'which two from four', with persuasive arguments possible for each of Rashford, Foden, Sterling and Saka.
Saka is expected to start, while Southgate said in his pre-match news conference that he's "not sure there's a right or wrong" choice, because all four are exceptional and each of them offers something different. That's very true.
He also pointed out - correctly - that with five substitutes available, each of them has the possibility of making an impact off the bench.
Amongst the media massive there's speculation that, because Henderson, Rashford and Foden have done media interviews in the last few days, they must be in the starting team.
I'm not sure the FA or Southgate works like that.
But what is certain is that the FA's game analysts have been working overtime to prepare a detailed dossier on England's opponents in the last 16.
And I've been told that has highlighted a Senegal side that is adaptable, fluid in formation (they've changed the tactics for each of their three group games), unpredictable, but with an abundance of quality and an impressive physicality.
Make no mistake, even though the USA caused England problems and dominated the midfield for much of their 0-0 draw, they didn't often threaten Jordan Pickford's goal.
Southgate says he expects Senegal to do that much more effectively in this game, even without their talisman Sadio Mane.
They are weakened further by the suspension of Everton's Idrissa Gueye in midfield, but the Lions of Teranga remain very dangerous for the Three Lions of England.
Southgate's side are taking nothing for granted, and whilst they are firm favourites to proceed to the quarter-finals, the buzzwords in the England camp are: concentration, confidence, and caution.
Twenty years on from captaining his nation in their debut experience of the World Cup, Aliou Cisse wants to lead Senegal to history again - this time as manager.
Southgate says England are "mentally and physically" prepared for penalties when they take on Senegal on Sunday.
England have been involved in three shootouts since Southgate took charge in 2016. They beat Colombia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia before overcoming Switzerland in the Nations League a year later.
Although their most recent shootout ended in defeat against Italy in the Euro 2020 final last summer, England boss Southgate believes his players are ready to go the distance against the African champions as they target a quarter-final place in Qatar this weekend.
"We're prepared. We've had a process that we've followed," Southgate said at his pre-match press conference.
"We've won two of three shootouts and looked at how we can improve. But of course, there are so many other aspects we have to get right.
"We're aiming to win the game in 90 minutes and to avoid extra time and penalties. But if we need to go beyond that we have to be ready mentally and physically. I believe we are."
Round of 16 - Sunday December 4
England vs Senegal - Kick-off 7pm
Quarter-finals - Saturday December 10
England vs France or Poland - Kick-off 7pm
Semi-finals - Wednesday December 14
England vs Morocco/Spain/Portugal/Switzerland - Kick-off 7pm