It’s clear that Harry Kane playing as something as a false nine suits the Tottenham striker, as well as England’s various attacking options besides, but whether coach Gareth Southgate knows who the most effective pair to play off Kane and run beyond him are is far less certain.
Raheem Sterling has long been a Southgate favourite, often delivering for England, but has faded at Chelsea of late and lacks the form of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka at club level. Saka, meanwhile, for all the excitement now surrounding Marcus Rashford’s form after his brace against Wales, also scored twice in one game at this World Cup, and arguably against stronger opposition in the opening game with Iran. Although he’s yet to truly impress for England when you consider his Manchester City performances, Phil Foden’s interplay was nevertheless key to some of England’s better moments against Wales. Unlike Kane, all those mentioned here have scored at this tournament already, as has Jack Grealish, presenting Southgate with various possible combinations in attack for the next round.
Now joint top scorer at the tournament, Rashford will likely start the last 16 game with Senegal but his selection isn’t as obvious as it might seen. Southgate has always prioritised balance over outright form or ability and that could yet mean Saka and Sterling, who both performed well against Iran, are again preferred this weekend. However, Southgate could see his decision as a choice between the two pairs of Foden and Rashford or Saka and Sterling, in which case the in form Saka and the reliable Sterling might still have the edge given Southgate’s only tentative use of Foden so far.
Although it may not be a concern against a fairly expansive Senegal team, England’s forward display in the USA draw could count against the Saka/Sterling pair longer term, given their lack of effectiveness in a uninspired performance as the USA swamped England’s central midfield. That means, even if Rashford and Foden are dropped again for the next game, they may yet be favourites to return later on against tougher or more pragmatic opposition.
Although Southgate’s team tends to change depending on the opponents, a third centre-back remains likely deeper in the tournament for example, based on his selection decisions so far, questions persist over weather the England coach knows who his most effective partnership are and which set up would be most likely to see England home against a fellow tournament favourite.