On June 7th England take on Costa Rica at Elland Road, Leeds for a final friendly before jetting off to Russia and Gareth Southgate’s line-up on this evening will be revealing indeed.
With just eleven days separating the fixture from the Three Lion’s opening World Cup gambit against Tunisia it is logical to assume that the starting elevens will be virtually identical as Southgate concentrates on team shape and individual instructions. In short it will be a rehearsal for the big day with all of the main cast present.
As to who that cast will be remains to be seen but certainly all eyes will immediately linger on the first name on the team-sheet as the long-running battle between Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford for the number one jersey is set to be determined once and for all. Which of the duo is selected to face the South Americans and who keeps net against Nigeria (in England’s earlier friendly this Saturday, a game where Southgate is expected to field the periphery of his 23 man squad) will be the biggest clue yet as to where the England manager’s allegiances lie. The sensible money is on the Everton stopper.
Beyond the goal-mouth intrigue still surrounds the recent switch to a back three with Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young essentially deployed as wing-backs and it will be no surprise if the defensive set-up that proved largely successful against Holland and Italy is replicated here. Venturing further forward the predicted front three is Alli, Kane and Sterling with Henderson and Dier manning the engine-room.
What has been mentioned too scantly as the excitement of England’s fifteenth World Cup campaign builds and the World Cup betting commences is the quality in reserve, most notably from Lingard and Vardy who offer not only a goal threat but a different means to attack for Southgate should Tunisia prove to be a hard nut to crack. It’s fair to assume that both will feature as the Costa Ricans experience the passionate environs of Yorkshire and Southgate trials every eventuality that awaits him in Russia.
This will be only the second time the respective nations have met with 2014’s goalless draw in Brazil one to forget and on this occasion the venue is as noteworthy as the opposition. Road-showing the national side around the country was a huge success four years ago and though this is a one-off the FA couldn’t have picked a more vocal and fiery location. The Leeds crowd will cheer on our boys while from our TV screens the rest of us will scrutinise every decision undertaken from the dug-out. Because who is chosen – and how they are utilised – will most likely be decisions mirrored shortly after as England embark on their latest World Cup adventure.