Gareth Southgate may not be a manager with a long history of converting big games with his substitutions, but he has shown before that he isn’t afraid to make changes between games.
As England prepare to face Wales in their final group match of this World Cup, their recent history suggests the manager will be more than happy to tweak and tinker, especially with his forwards.
At this stage of last year’s European Championship, England were in a similar position. They had won their opening match against Croatia but struggled to find their attacking fluency in their second match, a goalless draw with Scotland. England were equally unimaginative in their second game of this tournament, Friday’s dull draw with the United States.
Based on last year’s evidence, it would therefore come as no surprise if Southgate refreshed their front row with a few different faces against Wales.
Last summer, he switched half of his front four in game three, with Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish entering the squad. Those changes worked, as Saka and Grealish teamed up to assist Raheem Sterling’s winning goal against the Czech Republic.
Grealish will again be a candidate to make the starting lineup, having been a substitute in both of England’s matches in Qatar.
Many England fans are also hoping there will be room for Phil Foden on the bench against the USA. Sterling and Saka’s struggles against the Americans make them obvious candidates for quitting. The same goes for Mason Mount, who was in and out of the draw on Friday.
As the years have gone on for Southgate, he seems to have become more willing to make these changes between games, to come up with different game plans for different opponents. His team was much more stable at the start of his tenure, as can be seen from his selection choices at the 2018 World Cup.
Apart from the third match of that tournament, when England had already reached the knockout stages, and the third place play-off against Belgium, Southgate remained largely with a trusted group of regulars.
The same 10 players – Jordan Pickford, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Sterling and Harry Kane – started England’s other five games of the 2018 tournament.
Of the established lineup, only Dele Alli (replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek for game two) failed to play in all five games.
Southgate has become more of a tinkerman over time, then, but that’s largely with his forward players instead of his defenders.
Out back, there was less interference. Stones has started every match in the Southgate kingdom tournament, while Harry Maguire is always picked when he’s fit. Up until now, this has also been true of Kyle Walker (who is still getting back to full fitness).
We should therefore expect his defense to remain stable, but don’t be surprised if he transforms the feel of his offense.