The Magic Man explains why England have the hardest last-16 tie, how Senegal present Gareth Southgate with the opportunity to prepare for a potential France quarter-final, why Mason Mount must come into midfield, and why Harry Kane should look to Olivier Giroud for inspiration
Sunday 4 December 2022 19:56, UK
In his latest Sky Sports column, Paul Merson reflects on England's victory over Wales and why it shouldn't impact Gareth Southgate's team selection against the "hardest" World Cup last-16 opponents Senegal.
After topping Group B with Tuesday's 3-0 win over Wales, England take on African champions Senegal for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals on Sunday.
There have been calls for Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden to retain their places after their goalscoring returns to the starting line-up, but Sky Sports News has revealed that Bukayo Saka is set to start for the Three Lions against Senegal.
And Merson doubts whether Southgate will deviate from the teams fielded in England's opening two matches.
Read on for the Magic Man's thoughts on England vs Senegal, why the African champions represent the toughest last-16 challenge, how Mason Mount could be key to England's progress, and why Harry Kane has to start scoring if England are to go all the way in Qatar…
Everyone thinks England are going to win the World Cup after beating Wales. We're getting majorly carried away. We were getting booed off a few days ago!
Wales were the worst team in the group. Not one single player in their whole squad would get into England's. I'd even go as far as to say that if England had a shadow squad, they wouldn't get in that either.
People are losing sight of things. Let's not forget who we were playing against and the quality of the opposition. To say Rashford and Foden have got to start off the back of the Wales game when Southgate picked his best team against Iran less than a fortnight ago... surely things haven't changed that dramatically?
I'd be shocked if Southgate named an unchanged team, and I mean shocked. I don't think the team will be far off the one which started against Iran or USA, with Kyle Walker coming in. Walker will definitely play. Along as he is fit, he's the second name on the teamsheet.
Raheem Sterling has always been Southgate's go-to player, as has Bukayo Saka. The fact neither of them started against Wales perhaps indicates they could be back in against Senegal.
Too many people fall into the trap of picking the same team. I don't get that, especially when you look at who we played. Rashford did well and scored two goals, but with all due respect, every other goalkeeper in the tournament would have caught the first one. It didn't hit the side-netting and wasn't in the top corner, it was poor goalkeeping.
Against Senegal, I wouldn't be surprised if Southgate started playing the way he's going to play for the rest of the tournament.
It's hard to keep changing from a four at the back to a three at the back, England need to settle on a formation now.
With a quarter-final against France on the horizon, England have got to draw up plans for Kylian Mbappe. That could see Walker on the right of a three-man defence and Kieran Trippier at right wing-back, doubling up on Mbappe.
England might as well start doing that now against Senegal, there is no point doing it for the first time against France.
This is a hard game. I would rather have drawn the Netherlands.
I know Senegal have got their two best players, the injured Sadio Mane and suspended Idrissa Gueye, missing, but they are the champions of Africa. This will be a decent game, it's nowhere near a shoo-in.
I actually think, of all the top nations left in the tournament, England have got the hardest draw in the last 16 when you compare it to Argentina vs Australia or France vs Poland.
Senegal will be physical, strong and skilful, and you can bet that Gareth and his players won't be underestimating them.
If Mane or Gueye were playing this would probably be a heads-or-tails game, but without them it gives England an advantage, albeit only slight.
I wouldn't go with Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson as the midfield three, it's too one-dimensional and you're asking for Harry Kane to drop deeper and deeper.
If you're going to give one of the midfield three the freedom to roam forward, then Mason Mount should be starting there. I'd have Mount in midfield over Henderson because he moves the ball quickly, sees a pass and is on the half-turn.
If you play Mount, I think it would keep Kane further up the pitch and would allow you to push Bellingham forward, leaving Rice in front of the back four, which is enough, you don't need two defensive midfielders in front of the back four.
England have got to play at a high tempo. When they play at a high tempo, they are a very good team, as we saw against Iran and in the second half against Wales.
It was too slow in the first half against Wales but as soon as England stepped it up and played with pace, they couldn't live with England.
That will be the same against Senegal, providing England play the same way. If they play 'international football' and roll the ball around the back, then I don't see them going far in the tournament at all.
If Harry Kane doesn't score three or four goals before the end of the tournament, England aren't winning the World Cup, it's as simple as that.
When it gets down to the nitty gritty against big nations, England are going to need Harry Kane. There is no way England win this World Cup without Kane scoring at least three goals. I may be wrong, but I just don't see England lifting the World Cup if Kane has scored only one goal.
Kane needs to take a leaf out of Olivier Giroud's book and stay up front and have faith in the players behind him to create. There is enough talent to supply Kane, he doesn't have to keep coming short.
It's all well and good talking about Kane's assists, but we haven't played anybody of note yet. When we start playing big teams, Kane is the one who needs to be in the box scoring the goals.