Paul Merson says Gareth Southgate is spoilt for choice as he finalises his World Cup squad selections, and that England will have to be lucky if they are to have any chance of success in Qatar.
Southgate, who selected a 55-man preliminary squad at the end of October, has to whittle that down to a final group of 26 for the tournament, which runs from November 20 to December 18.
The England boss will announce his final 26-man squad on Thursday at 2pm and here Merson discusses the major talking points…
Selection headache for Gareth
Gareth has got too many choices for England. He’ll be pulling his hair out before Thursday.
Now he’s going to have to leave players out. Players who had a chance and will be disappointed not to make it.
That hasn’t been the case before at England. Probably the last time that happened was Gazza [in 1998].
Trent perfect for group games
He [Trent Alexander-Arnold] will go. You’ve got to take him. He’s a talented footballer. He’s not a great defender but the kid can pass the ball. The first three games we play are going to be against teams who sit behind the ball so we need someone who is going to break them down.
I’d be shocked if he didn’t start in the first few games where we’re going to dominate the ball. I’d be shocked if we didn’t have 70 per cent possession in those three games.
For me, he has to start in those group games. I don’t see that happening when we get to the knockouts and we have 47 per cent of the ball, though.
Maddison could fly under radar
If you don’t take him [James Maddison] it all goes out the window. You aren’t worried about picking players in form if he doesn’t go. You’re just relying on players you know, who are reliable. Well, times change. You’ve got to move on and pick the players in form.
There’s nobody playing better than James Maddison right now – as an English forward. He could be the gem. He’s a player that not a lot of people are going to know. People watch the Premier League but he won’t be on the radar of many teams.
They’ll be talking about Sterling and Rashford and Kane – they won’t be talking about Maddison. He could be the one to catch teams cold. He makes things happen and he’s in a rich vein of form – I make him a shoo-in.
‘Intelligent’ Wilson second to Kane
I’m a big fan. Callum Wilson has international movement. As a centre-forward he has unbelievable movement. He’s a top mover. You talk about Erling Haaland – Haaland has unbelievable movement but he has pace as well, so it shows more. Wilson hasn’t got the same pace but he does have intelligent movement.
He’ll score goals in the six-yard box. He gets his goals in the box. He definitely goes. He’s second to Kane. If you want a goal you’ve got to put Wilson on before anybody.
If you’re losing a game and you’ve got to take a chance, you want someone to put the ball in the net from six yards. Wilson is the first one behind Harry Kane because he’s a natural goalscorer.
England’s group harder than it looks
We’ll have to be lucky. We don’t keep the ball long enough. If you look at the Euros when we got to the final, I don’t think we had more possession than any team we played. I’m not sure we did. Now, that’s alright at Wembley. But when you’re playing in 80-90 degrees in Qatar you have to keep the ball. You don’t want to be chasing around all day.
For me, we need to get lucky. I’m not exaggerating I think the group is hard. I’m not taking this group for granted. Iran will be fresh, they’ll be fine with the heat. Then it’s Wales who are playing their biggest game ever, that will be hard.
USA will be one of the most disciplined teams – they’ll be fit. It’s a dangerous group because we will have to take it to those teams when we’re more comfortable playing counter-attacking football.
Defensive style well suited to knockout football
Gareth was a defender. He’s been a defender all his life. A top defender at that. You look at the Italy game in the Euros final – we’re battering them, we’re 1-0 up. Just go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? The worse thing is that it goes 1-1. If we go 2-0 up we’re European champions.
All his career, all his training sessions have been defensive minded. That’s just the way it is. I wouldn’t say he goes out thinking ‘let’s all sit behind the ball’. But he’s a defensive coach.
That will hold steady in the latter stages maybe, but when we have to take it to teams it won’t.
England’s World Cup squad will be announced at 2pm on Thursday; Follow all the news and reaction live on Sky Sports News and Sky Sports Digital with Rob Dorsett answering your questions on the confirmed England squad on Thursday afternoon