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Here's how England SHOULD line up in their World Cup opener against Iran

Rory O'Callaghan

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Here's how England SHOULD line up in their World Cup opener against Iran

With England's Nations League campaign over, attention will now turn to the World Cup in Qatar this winter.

With no warm-up matches currently scheduled, England will head into the tournament on the back of a six-game winless run after they were held to a 3-3 draw by Germany on Monday night.

Gareth Southgate has faced criticism for his tactics and team selection in recent months and he faces some difficult decisions for England's opening match of the World Cup against Iran on November 21.

Here's how I think the Three Lions should line up for their tournament opener at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

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Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford

Only injury will prevent Jordan Pickford from being in goal for England's opening game. The Everton shot-stopper is currently sidelined with a thigh problem but is expected to make his return to first-team football in the coming weeks.

Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope was handed a chance to impress this month in Pickford's absence but he failed to make the most of his opportunity, with his late error against Germany costing England a much-needed victory. Aaron Ramsdale did not play a single minute against Italy and Germany and it is hard to see Southgate dropping Pickford for the Arsenal goalkeeper.

Jordan Pickford is almost certain to start for England in Qatar if he is fit (Image: Alamy)
Jordan Pickford is almost certain to start for England in Qatar if he is fit (Image: Alamy)

Defence – Reece James, John Stones, Fikayo Tomori, Luke Shaw

England have an embarrassment of riches at right-back, with one of Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker and Reece James likely to miss out on a place in the World Cup squad.

At the moment, it looks like Alexander-Arnold is most at risk of being cut. The Liverpool man was called up for the games against Italy and Germany but failed to play a single minute. While he may rightly feel hard done by over his lack of opportunities for England, Alexander-Arnold does not deserve a place in the starting line-up based on current form. For me, it's a toss-up between James and Walker, with the Chelsea man just getting the nod.

Harry Maguire is absolutely bereft of confidence and should not start for England until his form improves. While he has rarely let Southgate down at major tournaments, he cannot keep his place in the side while continuing to make major errors on such a regular basis.

I would instead start Fikayo Tomori at centre-back alongside John Stones. The AC Milan defender has impressed in Italian football and should have been given the chance to build a partnership with Stones during the international break. It is hard to understand why he continues to be overlooked by Southgate despite his importance for Milan, particularly last season.

England should play a 4-2-3-1 formation against Iran (Image: Alamy)
England should play a 4-2-3-1 formation against Iran (Image: Alamy)

There are question marks over whether Stones will be fit in time for England's opening game of the tournament after the Manchester City defender picked up a hamstring injury against Germany. But if fit, he is a guaranteed starter.

While England boast a number of world-class players at right-back, they are not so blessed with options on the opposite flank. Manchester United defender Luke Shaw and Chelsea's Ben Chilwell are both struggling for game time with their respective club sides.

I've gone for Shaw over Chilwell based on his superior international experience but it could be a major issue for Southgate if he has not regained his starting place at Old Trafford before the World Cup gets underway.

Midfield – Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham

West Ham captain Declan Rice is an automatic starter for England in defensive midfield, while Jude Bellingham should start over Kalvin Phillips once the World Cup rolls around.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder was arguably England's best player against Italy and Germany and represents a more dynamic partner for Rice than Phillips, who is a doubt for the tournament after having surgery on a shoulder injury.

Rice is more defensively minded than Bellingham and can drop into a back three when England's full-backs push up the pitch, leaving the Dortmund man free to excel in a No 8 role.

Jude Bellingham was arguably England's best player in the international break (Image: Alamy)
Jude Bellingham was arguably England's best player in the international break (Image: Alamy)

Attack – Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane

Bukayo Saka struggled against Italy after being played in an unfamiliar left wing-back position by Southgate, but the Arsenal winger showed his undoubted talent after being brought on in a more advanced role on the opposite flank against Germany. He turned the match on its head with a superb cameo appearance and should start against Iran, with Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling on the opposite wing.

Manchester City's Phil Foden could be the key to England performing well in Qatar. He deserves to start over his club teammate Jack Grealish and Chelsea's Mason Mount in a No 10 role behind England captain Harry Kane.

That front four is as good as anything in international football and Southgate should play to England's attacking strengths, with a 4-2-3-1 formation. With the greatest respect to Iran, England should be winning their opening match whatever formation they play. Southgate must release the shackles and trust his attacking players to get him the win he badly needs.

Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comments.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Rory O'Callaghan
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