Leeds: Gareth Southgate has admitted he has “serious decisions” to make over his starting line-up for England’s opening group game at the World Cup, against Tunisia on June 18, after a much changed team impressed in the dismissal of Costa Rica.
Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek caught the eye in the 2-0 success in Leeds to offer the manager food for thought before the squad’s departure for the tournament on Tuesday.
“It’s more difficult, no question,” Southgate said. “There are some serious decisions to take, but in a really good way. If I was thinking I have no one to play in this position or in that position, it would be a very different situation. We asked the players to give us competition for places, and they’ve done that. We needed options.
“Rashford played with a real swagger tonight. For me, at the end of the season, he cares so much you can see he was trying too hard [at Manchester United]. I said to all the team before the game, I expect to see mistakes tonight and, if I don’t, there might be a problem because we wouldn’t be being as attack-minded as we want to be. They are going to make errors, but by taking risks they show the glimpses of quality like Marcus’s opening goal. That was world-class, but he was also teasing defenders by the touchline.
“His performance wasn’t perfect, but he was enjoying his football and that was good to see. I have 11 or 12 who are going to be difficult to leave out. There is genuine competition for places. It wasn’t the first-team versus Nigeria and a second-team tonight: we have quality across the two line-ups.
“Ruben is another super talent. It’s still early for him. He’s still learning the game really, even as an England international, as he has so few league appearances under his belt and is incredibly raw. But we believe in him.
“We know the talent he has. You can see the ability he has to hold people off, his speed of feet and the strength when he is running with the ball. A super talent, and different to the other players we have.”
England’s three standby players — Adam Lallana, Jake Livermore and Tom Heaton — will now depart the squad with the national team’s medical team confident the slight twinges felt by Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier are not serious.
“They’ve all said they’re there if needed, they’re ready, and wished everyone luck,” said Southgate, who will give his squad a few days off before their return to St George’s Park on Sunday.
Asked whether he would also enjoy some time off, Southgate said: “I’m going to get my hair cut, for a start. Probably try and watch my son play cricket, and be at home with the family. It’s important I switch off. We’ll watch the games back and have a couple of calls between the coaches, but it’s important to keep perspective because tournaments demand huge energy levels from everyone.”